Flu is a viral infection that is more common in the winter months, although you can catch the flu at any time of the year. Usually about to 15% of people get the flu each year.
The common symptoms of flu are:
sudden fever– a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
dry, chesty cough
limb or joint pain
diarrhoea or upset stomach
runny or blocked nose
loss of appetite
The symptoms are usually worst 1 – 3 days after becoming infected and then gradually ease over several days. Most people will have recovered fully within one week, however, you may still feel tired and have an irritating cough for a number of weeks.
Certain people, such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with an cronic medical conditions are at risk of complications from the flu that can be serious and can even cause death.
Is it the cold or flu?
Both infections are caused by viruses and their symptoms can often be confused.
|Fever||High fever lasts 3-4 days||Rare|
|General Aches, Pains||Usual; often severe||Slight|
|Fatigue, Weakness||Can last up to 2-3 weeks||Quite mild|
|Extreme Exhaustion||Early and prominent||Never|
|Chest Discomfort, Cough||Common; can become severe||Mild to moderate; hacking cough|
Flu is caused by the influenza virus. The virus is highly infectious and is spread in small droplets of fluid coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. These droplets can be inhaled by another person, infecting them. The virus can also survive on surfaces for 24 hours. If a person touches the contaminated surface and then touches their nose or mouth, they can then become infected with the flu.
For most people, their immune system will clear the virus and their symptoms will improve within about a week. It is important to rest, keep warm and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Paracetamol and/or ibuprofen can help lower your temperature and relieve aches and pains.
Decongestants, sinus rinses, throat lozenges can help to relieve symptoms.
If you have an underlying health condition you may be at increased risk of developing complications from the flu and your doctor may prescribe antiviral medicines for you. These do not cure the flu, they stop the virus multiplying in your body which can relieve some of the symptoms and reduce the chance of developing serious complications. They need to be started within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms to be effective.
Antibiotics do not treat the flu as they have no effect on viruses. They are used to treat secondary chest/sinus/ear infections caused by bacteria.
The flu vaccine
The seasonal flu vaccine is the only safe, effective way to prevent flu infection. It will prevent infection in 70% - 90% of people. The vaccine helps your immune system to produce antibodies to the flu virus so if you come in contact with the flu, these antibodies attack the flu.
Vaccination is strongly recommended for:
Persons aged 65 and over
Those aged 6 months and older with a long-term health condition such as
Chronic heart disease
Chronic liver disease
Chronic renal failure
Chronic respiratory disease, including cystic fibrosis, moderate or severe asthma or bronchopulmonary dysplasia
Chronic neurological disease including multiple sclerosis, hereditary and degenerative disorders of the central nervous system
Morbid obesity i.e. body mass index over 40
Immunosuppression due to disease or treatment, including asplenia or splenic dysfunction
Children aged 6 months and older
With any condition (e.g. cognitive dysfunction, spinal cord injury, seizure disorder, or other neuromuscular disorder) that can compromise respiratory function especially those attending special schools/day centres with moderate to severe neurodevelopmental disorders such as cerebral palsy and intellectual disability
on long-term aspirin therapy (because of the risk of Reyes syndrome)
Pregnant women (vaccine can be given at any stage of pregnancy)
Residents of nursing homes and other long stay institutions
People with regular contact with pigs, poultry or water fowl.
The vaccine cannot give you the flu. It does, however, take 10 – 14 days to provide protection against the flu and therefore you can still catch the flu during that period.
The flu virus changes each year so it is important to get vaccinated every year.
totalhealth pharmacist's advice
Ask your totalhealth team member if you are eligible for free flu vaccination.
Cover your nose and mouth with disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and dispose of the used tissue in the bin immediately.
Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water or alcohol based hand sanitizers, especially after coughing or sneezing.
See a doctor if you experience the following:
You become short of breath or have difficulty breathing;
You have chest pain or pressure;
You are coughing up dark coloured or bloody sputum;
You are wheezing;
You do not start feeling better in a few days or have had a fever for three or more days that is not going down;
You have started to feel better and suddenly feel much worse;
You are confused or extremely drowsy and find it difficult to wake up;
You have extreme pain in your ear.