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Flu information

Seasonal flu - information

At Risk Groups

Those in the flu At Risk group are:

 

Over 65s, those with a chronic disease e.g. if you have Diabetes, Asthma (if on inhaled steroids), chronic bronchitis, COPD, chronic kidney disease, liver disease or are on specific drugs that cause your immune system to be suppressed and registered carers. Pregnant ladies are also at risk and are recommended to have a flu vaccination. Please discuss with the midwife if you need further information.

 

As in previous years, healthy 2 and 3 year olds will be offered an influenza vaccination by way of nasal inhalation (no injection required) and we would encourage parents of children in these age ranges to bring them along to the baby immunisation clinic on a Tuesday or make an appointment with the nurse so they can be immunised. Children already in an At Risk group will be vaccinated as usual.

Introduction

Flu is an infectious and common viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes.

It's not the same as the common cold. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses. Symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer.

You can catch flu – short for influenza – all year round, but it is especially common in winter, which is why it is also known as "seasonal flu".

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.

Flu symptoms can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.

When to see a doctor

If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms. 

The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a high temperature and relieve aches.

You should see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms and you:

  • are aged 65 or over
  • are pregnant
  • have a long-term medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease
  • have a weakened immune system

This is because flu can be more serious for you, and your doctor may want to prescribe antiviral medication.

Antiviral medicine can lessen the symptoms of flu and shorten its duration, but treatment needs to begin soon after flu symptoms start for it to be effective.

Antibiotics are of no use in the treatment of flu because it is caused by a virus and not by bacteria.

How long does flu last?

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.

You are usually infectious – that is, able to pass flu on to others – a day before your symptoms start and for a further five or six days. Children and people with weaker immune systems, such as cancer patients, may remain infectious for longer.

Elderly people and anyone with certain long-term medical conditions are more likely to have a bad case of flu, and are also more likely to develop a serious complication such as a chest infection.

In the UK, about 600 people a year die from a complication of seasonal flu. This rises to around 13,000 during an epidemic.

Preventing the spread of flu

The flu virus is spread in small droplets of fluid coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. These droplets can travel a metre or so and infect anyone within range who breathes them in.

Flu can also spread if someone with the virus transfers it on their fingers. For example, if you have flu and you touch your nose or eyes and then touch someone else, you may pass the virus on to them.

Similarly, if you have flu and touch hard surfaces such as door handles with unwashed hands, other people who touch the surface after you can pick up the infection.

You can stop yourself catching flu or spreading it to others by being careful with your hygiene. 

Always wash your hands regularly with soap and water, as well as:

  • regularly cleaning surfaces such as your computer keyboard, telephone and door handles to get rid of germs
  • using tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • putting used tissues in a bin as soon as possible

You can also help stop the spread of flu by avoiding all unnecessary contact with other people while you're infectious. You should stay off work until you are no longer infectious and you're feeling better.

The flu vaccine

A flu vaccine is available free on the NHS for:

  • anyone over the age of 65 
  • pregnant women
  • children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
  • children and adults with weakened immune systems

It is given as an annual injection to:

  • adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone over 65)
  • children aged six months to two years at risk of flu

The flu vaccine is also given as an annual nasal spray to:

  • children aged two to 18 years at risk of flu
  • healthy children aged two, three and four years old

Despite popular belief, the flu vaccine cannot give you flu as it doesn't contain the active virus needed to do this.

The flu vaccine is available from October this year. Please see flu clinics for more information on who should have the flu vaccine. and how to get it

Flu vaccine for children

In the autumn/winter of 2017/2018 the annual nasal spray flu vaccine will be available for all children aged two and three years old as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.

Over time, as the programme rolls out, potentially all children between the ages of two and 16 will be offered vaccination against flu each year with the nasal spray.

Symptoms of flu

The symptoms of flu will usually peak after two to three days and you should begin to feel much better within five to eight days. 

However, you may have a lingering cough and still feel very tired for a further two to three weeks.

Flu can give you any of these symptoms:

  • sudden fever – a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
  • dry, chesty cough
  • headache
  • tiredness
  • chills
  • aching muscles
  • limb or joint pain
  • diarrhoea or upset stomach
  • sore throat
  • runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty sleeping

When to visit your GP

If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to visit your GP if you have flu-like symptoms. 

The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a high temperature and relieve aches.

You should visit your GP if you have flu-like symptoms and you:

  • are 65 years of age or over
  • are pregnant
  • have a long-term medical condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease
  • have a weakened immune system (the body's natural defence against infection and illness)

Flu can be more serious for these groups and antiviral medication may need to be prescribed.

Read more about how to treat flu and who should see a doctor.

Flu or cold?

The symptoms of flu and the common cold can be similar. Here's how to tell the difference:

Flu symptoms

  • come on quickly and include fever and aching muscles
  • make you feel too unwell to continue your usual activities

Cold symptoms

  • come on gradually
  • affect just your nose and throat
  • are fairly mild, so you can still get around and are usually well enough to go to work

Causes of flu

The flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes.

These droplets typically spread about one metre. They hang suspended in the air for a while before landing on surfaces, where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours.

Anyone who breathes in the droplets can catch flu. You can also catch the virus by touching the surfaces that the droplets have landed on if you pick up the virus on your hands and then touch your nose or mouth.

Everyday items at home and in public places can easily become contaminated with traces of flu virus, including food, door handles, the remote control, handrails, telephone handsets and computer keyboards.

It's therefore important to wash your hands frequently to prevent catching and spreading flu.

Read more about how to prevent the spread of flu.

New types of flu

If you become infected with a flu virus, your body will produce antibodies against it. Antibodies are proteins that recognise and fight off germs that have invaded your body. 

Your antibodies will remember this flu virus and fight it if it invades your body again.

But over time the flu virus can change into a different version or strain, which means your body may not recognise it and you can catch flu again.

When the virus changes to a new strain that people have little or no resistance to, it can cause a flu pandemic, which means it can spread globally. This is what happened in the swine flu pandemic of 2009.

Don't pass it on

Catch it

Germs spread easily. Always carry tissues and use them to catch your cough or sneeze.

Bin it

Germs can live for several hours on tissues. Dispose of your tissue as soon as possible.

Kill it

Hands can transfer germs to every surface you touch. Clean your hands as soon as you can.

Diagnosing flu

If you are otherwise fit and healthy, you do not need to see your GP when you have flu.

When you should see your GP

You should see your GP if you have flu and any of the following applies to you:

  • your symptoms have got much worse and include shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing up blood, or you have developed other symptoms that are not typical of flu, such as a rash
  • your symptoms have lasted for longer than a week
  • you have a medical condition that is making your flu worse (see complications of seasonal flu)

Your GP will diagnose flu based on your symptoms and your medical history. If they suspect that your symptoms are caused by a different condition – for example, malaria if you have recently been travelling – you may need to have further tests or a referral to a hospital specialist.

Treating flu

If you have flu, it will usually be possible for you to treat yourself effectively at home.

If this is the case, you should:

  • rest
  • keep warm
  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration

If you feel unwell and have a fever, you can take paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to lower your high temperature and relieve aches.

If you are in a high-risk group and are more likely to suffer complications from flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication.

Antivirals will not cure flu, but they will help to:

  • reduce the length of time you are ill by around one day
  • relieve some of the symptoms
  • reduce the potential for serious complications

Antibiotics are not prescribed for flu as they have no effect on viruses. However, occasionally it may be necessary to treat complications of flu, especially serious chest infections or pneumonia, with a course of antibiotics.

Complications of flu

Complications of flu mostly affect people in high-risk groups, such as the elderly, pregnant women and those who have a long-term medical condition or weakened immune system.

The most common complication is a bacterial chest infection. Occasionally, this can become serious and develop into pneumonia.

A course of antibiotics usually cures a chest infection or pneumonia, but it can very occasionally become life threatening, particularly in the frail and elderly.

Other serious complications are uncommon.

Rare complications

Rare complications include:

  • tonsillitis
  • otitis media – a build-up of fluid in the ear
  • septic shock – infection of the blood that causes a severe drop in blood pressure
  • meningitis – infection in the brain and spinal cord
  • encephalitis – inflammation of the brain

Preventing flu

There are three main ways of preventing flu: good hygiene, such as handwashing and cleaning, flu vaccination and antiviral medicines.

Good hygiene

Preventing the spread of germs is the most effective way of slowing the spread of flu. Always:

  • make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • clean surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles regularly to get rid of germs
  • use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in a bin as soon as possible

The flu jab

A flu vaccine is available free on the NHS for:

  • anyone over the age of 65 
  • pregnant women
  • children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
  • children and adults with weakened immune systems

It is given as an annual injection to:

  • adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone over 65)
  • children aged six months to two years at risk of flu

The flu vaccine is also given as an annual nasal spray to:

  • children aged two to 18 years at risk of flu
  • healthy children aged two and three years old

It is available from September this year. See flu clinics

Do I need the flu jab every year?

Yes. If you're in a high-risk group, you should have the seasonal flu vaccination every year so that you stay protected.

The viruses that cause flu change every year, so this winter's flu will be different from last winter's.



 
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