Flu is a short term for influenza. It can occur all year round, however, it most commonly occurs in the winter months between October and March. Unlike the common cold, flu is caused by a different set of viruses known as the influenza virus. The symptoms are usually more severe and last longer.
Flu symptoms include:
Flu is extremely contagious and you can pass the flu on to others who may be at risk of serious complications such as pneumonia, nerve damage and brain damage. Flu is usually mild and most people recover quickly, however, in some cases it may cause severe disease and possibly death.
How is Flu Spread?
Flu is passed from one person to another when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If anyone breathes in the droplets that come out of the nose/mouth they can catch flu. Droplets that land on surfaces can survive for up to 24 hours. A person that touches the surfaces that these droplets have landed on can also catch flu by then touching their nose/mouth.
Hygiene is extremely important to prevent the spread of flu. You should cover your mouth and nose when sneezing, regularly wash your hands and regularly clean surfaces.
Flu is a viral illness which can not be easily treated with antibiotics. There is no specific cure for flu and the main treatment for fit and healthy individuals would be to rest at home, drink plenty of fluids and take any painkillers if necessary. Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can also help reduce your temperature as well as help with pain relief.
You should visit your GP for treatment/medication if you belong to one of the following groups:
If you belong to one of the patient groups listed above your GP may consider treating you with antiviral medication. Antivirals will not cure flu but they may help relieve some of the symptoms and reduce the length of the illness.
The best way to prevent flu is by getting vaccinated. By getting vaccinated not only are you protecting yourself but you are also protecting others because you are less likely to spread the flu. The influenza virus regularly changes therefore you need to get vaccinated every year.
Currently the flu vaccine is available free on the NHS for the following groups:
In July 2012, the Department of Health recommended that children aged 2 to 17 should also be included in the flu vaccination programme. The programme is being phased-in gradually. Currently an annual flu vaccine nasal spray is offered to healthy children aged 2,3 and 4 and to children in school years 1 and 2.
If you think you may need the flu vaccine you should contact your local pharmacy or GP.