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Flu (influenza)

Flu (influenza)

Influenza, more commonly known as flu, is an illness caused by a virus. Flu is caused by a virus that’s spread through the air by coughs or sneeze. There are many different strains of virus which can all cause a flu. Although it’s more commonly spread during the winter months, it can happen at any time of year.

What is flu?

Flu is caused by a virus that’s spread through the air by coughs or sneezes. It can also live on surfaces for up to 24 hours and be caught through physical contact.

There are many different strains of virus which can all cause a flu. Although it’s more commonly spread during the winter months, it can happen at any time of year. It’s common to get the flu more than once, and it’s even possible to get it several times within a yearly winter period.

Is the flu contagious?

Flu is very infectious, especially in the first 5 days of the illness.

To reduce the risk of catching flu:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • Don’t share towels, toys, cutlery, drinks or food with someone who has the flu
  • Clean surfaces regularly
  • Make sure someone with symptoms of flu sneezes and coughs into a tissue and promptly throws it in a bin

Symptoms of flu

The symptoms of flu include:

  • Sore throat
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose and/or sneezing
  • Aching muscles and joints
  • High temperatures
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Flu symptoms are similar to those you experience when you have a common cold, except with flu, symptoms tend to be much more severe. Fatigue is common with flu, and will likely cause limitations to everyday life. It may prevent you going to work, social events or doing daily household tasks.

How to treat flu (influenza)

Influenza is caused by a virus and so will get better with time, and without any specific treatment. Antibiotics are not needed and will not help improve flu symptoms.

The best way to ease symptoms is to try some home flu remedies:

  • Drink plenty of fluids – water is best
  • Get a good amount of sleep and rest
  • Eat nutritious meals
  • Use paracetamol and ibuprofen to ease pain or temperature
  • Gargle salt, aspirin or use over-the-counter lozenges to treat the symptoms of a sore throat

You can also help a congested nose or sinuses by inhaling steam. Do this by having a hot, steamy shower, or by placing your head over a bowl of boiled water with a towel over, and inhale the steam.

Symptoms of flu usually resolve by themselves within 1-2 weeks.

Who should have a flu vaccination?

Every year a flu vaccine is manufactured, which aims to immunise people against the most common strains of flu present that year. Severe flu can be serious, particularly for those with an already weakened immune system or other chronic medical condition.

To avoid serious flu symptoms, it’s recommended that certain groups of people get a yearly vaccination to protect them. These include those that are:

  • Aged over 65
  • Pregnant
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have certain other medical conditions
  • Living in a residential care home
  • The main carer for an older or disabled person
  • Health or social care workers

When to see a GP for flu

  • If your symptoms do not start to improve within 7 days
  • If you feel very unwell or have breathing difficulties
  • If you have a weakened immune system, for example, through chemotherapy or immune-suppression medication
  • If you have other long-term conditions like kidney damage or lung disease
  • If you’re pregnant
Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated: