The symptoms of a common cold and flu are very similar, but they develop quicker and are much more severe. They are:
- Sudden fever of 38oC or above
- Dry, chesty cough
- Aching muscles
- Limb or joint pain
- Diarrhoea or upset stomach
- Runny or blocked nose
The symptoms of flu will usually peak after two to three days and you should begin to feel better within five to eight days. You may have a lingering cough and still feel very tired for a further two to three weeks.
Flu can generally be treated effectively at home. You should:
- Drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost due to sweating and a runny nose
- Get plenty of rest and keep warm
- Painkillers – paracetamol and ibuprofen will lower a high temperature and relieve the aches caused by flu
- Antibiotics are not prescribed for flu as they have no effect on viruses. Occasionally your GP may need to treat the complications of flu, especially serious chest inrections of pneumonia, with a course of antibiotics
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 then touch someone else, you may pass the virus on to them.
Similarly if you have flu and touch common hard surfaces such as door handles, with unwashed hands, then other people who touch the surface after you can pick up the infection.
You can stop yourself catching flu in the first place or spreading it to others by being careful with your hygiene. Always wash your hands regularly with soap and water and:
- regularly clean surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles 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 Vaccine
A flu vaccine is available free on the NHS for:
- pregnant women
- children aged two and three
- children aged 2-18 with a long-term health condition
- adults aged 65 or older
- people with a serious medical condition
- healthcare workers or carers
- people living in a residential or nursing home
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 each year. If you think you need it, talk to your GP or practice nurse.