Flu is a highly infectious and very common viral illness that is spread by coughs and sneezes. It is not the same as the common cold. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses and symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer. You can catch flu all year round, but it is especially common in winter, which is why it is also known as ‘seasonal flu’.
What are the symptoms and how long will it last?
Flu causes a sudden high temperature, headache and general aches and pains, tiredness and a sore throat. You can also lose your appetite, feel nauseous and have a cough. If you have flu you generally start to feel ill within a few days of being infected. Symptoms peak after two to three days and you should begin to feel much better after a week or so, although you may feel tired for much longer.
Preventing the spread of flu
The flu virus is spread in the small droplets of fluid coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person and also through touch. For example, if you have flu and touch common hard surfaces such as door handles with unwashed hands then other people who touch the surface after can pick up the infection. To prevent this from happening always wash your hands with soap and water, use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and put used tissues in a bin as soon as possible.
What to do if you have flu
If you are otherwise healthy, you can often manage flu by looking after yourself at home. Make sure to rest, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. If you have a fever or aching muscles, you can take paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to lower your temperature and relieve aches. Stay off work or school until you are feeling better. For most people, this will take about a week. It’s not unusual to feel under the weather for a few weeks after flu, but if your symptoms get worse or are not improving after a week, contact your GP.
The flu jab
A flu vaccine is available free on the NHS for:
- everyone aged 65 and over
- everyone under 65 years of age with a long-term medical condition including children and babies over six months
- all pregnant women, at any stage
- all two, three and four year old children
- everyone living in a residential or nursing home
- everyone who cares for an older or disabled person
- household contacts of anyone who is immuno-compromised
- all front line health and social care workers
The best way to protect yourselves and others from flu is to get vaccinated. Speak to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist.
You can download a leaflet with more information about who should have it and why below:
You can also find out more information and advice about things you can do to keep you and your family well this winter by visiting the NHS Choices website.