PEOPLE across Sussex are being urged by health bosses to protect themselves and their families from the flu virus this winter.

It is believed the virus will be more prevalent than usual following the worst outbreak in many years in Australia and New Zealand.

The winter flu season in the southern hemisphere was a pointer to the pressures that could be faced in the northern hemisphere.

Some people are more susceptible to the effects of the highly infectious disease.

It can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia or can make existing conditions worse.

In the worst cases, flu can result in a stay in hospital or even death.

Flu is caused by influenza viruses that infect the windpipe and lungs.

Due to it being caused by viruses and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t treat it.

Head of the Public Health screening and immunisation team for Sussex Max Kammerling said: “The flu virus is easily spread within communities.

“It can be very unpleasant, especially for pregnant women and anyone who suffers with another illness like diabetes, asthma, heart disease or kidney disease. Patients’ whose immunity is lowered due to disease or treatment such as steroid medication or cancer treatment are also at increased risk and should have the flu vaccine as soon as possible

“We’re keen to ensure all patients are vaccinated, especially those who are already at-risk groups.”

The most common symptoms of flu are fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles and extreme tiredness.

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spread the flu virus in tiny droplets of saliva over a wide area.

These droplets can then be breathed in by other people or they can be picked up by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed.

You can prevent the spread of the virus by covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and you can wash your hands frequently or use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus.

Flu is unpredictable and it is not possible to predict fully the strains that will circulate each year.

The most likely viruses that will cause flu each year are identified in advance of the flu season and vaccines are then made to match them as closely as possible.

The vaccines are given in the autumn ideally before flu starts circulating.

The free vaccine is available to anyone who is over the age of 65, pregnant, or has a long-term health condition.

Children aged two and three or in school from reception to Year 4 are all eligible for the child-friendly nasal spray vaccine.