Struck down by the flu? While plenty of bed rest is your first port of call, here are some other ways to help manage your symptoms
The influenza virus, commonly called the flu, causes an infection of the body's respiratory (breathing) system which affects the nose and throat, and sometimes the ears, sinuses and lungs.
Winter is most commonly known as ‘flu season,’ though it is possible to catch the flu all year round.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
These are the most common flu symptoms:
• Sudden fever (over 38°C)
• Runny or congested nose
• Sore throat
• Feeling tired
• Aching muscles and joints
• Diarrhoea or vomiting
Flu symptoms are in some ways similar to those of a common cold, but they tend to feel more severe and last for longer. You might also find they appear faster and have more of an effect on the rest of your body than a cold, which tends to be localised around the nose.
The flu can also impact your energy levels – you're very unlikely to be able to go to work or continue your daily activities while you recover. Symptoms can stick around for two weeks and any fatigue for a few weeks after.
How is the flu transmitted?
When a person with flu sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets containing the virus are released into the air. If inhaled, these can cause infection. The flu virus can live on hands and surfaces such as door handles for up to 24 hours, meaning you can catch the flu if you touch an area with the virus on it.
Flu is infectious from the day you get symptoms until around five days after. However, you may have been infected with flu for up to two days before you even get the first symptoms.
How can I manage my flu symptoms?
If you think you have the flu, make sure that you drink plenty of fluids. Rest as much as you can and stay away from work or school to avoid infecting other people and to allow yourself to recover.
You can also take a cold and flu remedy to help with symptoms. These medicines usually contain any of the following:
• Paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with headaches and fever
• Antihistamines to help control a runny nose, and help you sleep – ask your pharmacist for advice on which antihistamines are most suitable for this
• Decongestants to help relieve nasal congestion
• Mucolytics to help thin mucus, making it easier to cough up
It's best to speak with your pharmacist to find the best preparation for your symptoms and medical history.
When should I see my GP for the flu?
You should make an appointment with your GP if:
• Your symptoms persist for more than seven days or get worse
• You have a temperature for more than three days
• You are unable to keep fluids down due to vomiting
• You are pregnant
• You suffer from a chronic health condition like diabetes
• If you're over 65
How can I prevent catching the flu?
If a relative or friend has the flu, make sure that you only offer help or support as long as you're healthy – take precautions to ensure you can visit and provide care while staying safe yourself. Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, and avoid touching your face. Keep physical contact with them to a minimum.
You should also ask the person with flu to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze, and make sure any used tissues are binned immediately. Helping a person with flu stay at home by running errands for them can prevent the the flu virus from spreading.
The NHS offers a free flu vaccination every year to certain groups of people. Eligibility criteria for a free NHS flu vaccination may vary across each UK country, so please refer to local NHS guidance for details. Some people who may be entitled to a free flu vaccination on the NHS include those who:
• Are aged 65 or over (including those who’ll be 65 by 31 March 2023). In some UK countries the age limit may be lower than this
• Are pregnant
• Have diabetes
• Have asthma (treated with a preventer inhaler), COPD or other long-term lung conditions
• Have a long-term heart condition
• Have kidney or liver disease
• Have a neurological condition such as Parkinson’s disease
• Have a learning disability
• Have (or lives with someone who has) a weakened immune system due to a medical condition, medication or treatment
• Are severely overweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or more
This is not a complete list and eligibility may vary across each UK country and throughout the season, so please refer to local NHS guidance for the latest information.
What are the next steps?
• Consider getting the flu vaccination to help prevent catching the flu
• Rest and drink plenty of fluids if you get flu
• Ask your pharmacist or GP for advice if your symptoms don’t get better
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