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Flu and epilepsy

These pages are about vaccinations available in the UK. If you are looking for information about vaccinations in another country, please contact your local epilepsy organisation.

In this section

About flu
Vaccine for flu
People who should have the flu vaccine
Getting the vaccine if you are not in an eligible group
Further information

About flu

Flu is a very infectious virus that comes on very suddenly. The most common symptoms are fever, chills, headaches, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. For most people, it’s not serious, and they get better within a week. But some people who get flu go on to have more serious conditions, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. In rare cases, people die from the complications of flu.

Vaccine for flu

Each year the Department of Health makes a vaccine available to offer to people at risk of serious complications of flu. Most flu vaccines protect against three types of flu virus. This year one that protects against four types is available in limited amounts in some areas.

The 2013/2014 vaccine will be available in two forms.

  • An injection for babies over the age of six months but under the age of two who have a medical condition as listed below, and most adults 
  • A nasal spray for children aged two or three years on 1 September. In future years, the nasal spray will become available for all young people up to the age of 16.

Babies under six months old should not have the flu vaccine even if they have one of the medical conditions listed below. This is because it doesn’t work well in very young babies. That is why it is so important that pregnant women have the vaccination. They will pass on some immunity to their baby to protect them in the early months of their life.

People who should have the flu vaccine

You should have the flu vaccination if you are

  • aged two or three years
  • aged 65 years or over
  • pregnant 
  • have certain medical conditions (see below) 
  • living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility 
  • the main carer for an elderly or disabled person 
  • a health or social care worker.  

You should have the flu vaccination if you have 

  • a heart problem 
  • a chest complaint or breathing problems, including bronchitis or emphysema
  • kidney disease
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medicine or cancer treatment) 
  • liver disease 
  • had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • diabetes
  • a brain condition, such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
  • a problem with your spleen, for example, sickle cell disease, or if you have had your spleen removed

Epilepsy and getting the flu vaccine

Epilepsy is a long-term condition but the Department of Health doesn’t believe that people with epilepsy are in a high risk group. This means that you are not automatically called to have a flu vaccine just because you have epilepsy. But, if your family doctor thinks you are at risk of becoming seriously ill if you get flu, they can offer you the flu vaccine.

Getting the vaccine if you are not in an eligible group

People who don't qualify for the free flu vaccine can still get it privately from their GP, some pharmacies or some employers. In this case, you may have to pay for it.

More information about flu and vaccinations can be found at NHS choices.
Website: nhs.uk

Further information

If you think you might have flu, and you want to check your symtoms, help is available in the UK from your national NHS helpline

Health and Social Care (Northern Ireland)
Website: hscni.net

NHS Direct (England)
Tel: 0845 4647 – gradually being replaced by NHS 111. Calls will be re-routed to NHS 111
Website: nhsdirect.nhs.uk

NHS 24 (Scotland)
Tel: 08454 242 424
Website: nhs24.com

NHS Direct Wales
Tel: 0845 4647
Website: nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk

Pay it forward

This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you


This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated October 2013
    To be reviewed October 2014

Comments: read the 5 comments or add yours


I had asthma all my life and missed my last two flu jabs had a seziure in November 2012 and had another in April 2013 never had epilepsy before.but with the last two seziures I had a ear infection and a cold. And I never used to go to bed early could this be part of my problem as my MRI scan and EEG came back normal thanks dan

Submitted by Daniel on

Hi Daniel

The best person to say if there was any connection between you seizures and you been unwell is your epilepsy consultant.  For most people with epilepsy there is no known cause or trigger for them to develop epilepsy or to experience seizures. But for some people there are some things that make their seizures more likely. These are often referred to as ‘triggers’. Triggers are things like stress, not sleeping well and drinking too much alcohol. Some people say they have more seizures if they miss meals.

You may be interested in our online community, forum4e. This is for people with epilepsy and carers of people with epilepsy. People can find it really helpful to talk to other people in a similar situation and share experiences. 

I hope you epilepsy consultant is able to answer your question. 

Submitted by Diane@Epilepsy ... on

I would just like to add that I would not have the 'Flu jab'. based on the fact that I had my first seizure the day after having a 'Measles booster' as a child.
I was then seizure free until adolescence when I developed full blown Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy. I have been on medication for 55 years.
Maybe it was just a coincidence - or maybe vaccines can act as a trigger for those who have a genetic predisposition to epilepsy.
Has any research been done into this? If not what evidence do GPs and Consultants have to draw on when advising patients?

Submitted by Siobhan on


For information on research connected to the flu jab you may wish view the publication ‘Immunisation against infectious disease’: the green book produced by Public Health England. You will also find helpful information on how research is performed and reported on NHS choices website. If you haven’t already, it would be advisable to talk to your family doctor regarding your suitability to have the flu jab..

Diane Wallace

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane on

I've always had a flu jab from my GP on the basis of having epilepsy. The rationale they use is that having a seizure if you also have flu can increase the recovery times and be dangerous. Flu = loss of both energy and cognitve functioning; Post-ictal phase = loss of both enery and cognitive functioning!

Submitted by Fiona on

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