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Influenza (the flu) is a viral infection with some of the same symptoms as a common cold. But flu is much more serious than a cold, and it can affect your whole body. At the moment, everyone is concerned about being infected with Swine Flu (Influenza A - H1N1), but the fact is that other strains of the virus that cause the flu are always around us, and can be just as bad.


Special care is needed when children, the elderly, pregnant women or people with other health problems get the flu, as it can be potentially life-threatening. But most people will recover after about a week resting at home, and the aching and fever can usually be managed with over-the-counter pain-relievers.



What causes the flu?


The flu virus is very infectious. When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, infected droplets are expelled into the air and breathed in by others within a two-metre radius. It is also possible to get the flu by touching contaminated surfaces, and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes. This is why it is important to wash your hands thoroughly and often, especially in public toilets and in workplaces where you are surrounded by many other people.



What are the symptoms of flu?


Signs and symptoms of flu (including Swine Flu) come on rapidly over several hours:


  • fever (a temperature  of more than 38°C)
  • aching muscles and joints
  • a cough
  • a sore throat
  • a runny or stuffy nose
  • a headache
  • feeling shivery or cold
  • feeling very tired
  • difficulty breathing freely
  • occasionally, diarrhoea and vomiting.


Sometimes the infection spreads to the lungs, causing bronchitis or pneumonia. This is more likely in the elderly, heavy smokers and people with asthma or other health problems.



What is the treatment?


Stay at home, rest, keep warm and drink lots of fluids (except tea, coffee and alcohol which act as diuretics). The flu can’t be ‘cured’ with medication, but you can get relief from pain and fever by taking over-the-counter pain-relievers like paracetamol and ibuprofen or a combination of Paracetamol 500mg + Ibuprofen 150mg.


You can also use saline drops, nasal sprays, or oral decongestants to soothe and clear the nose, although some products can make you drowsy so check first. Ask your pharmacist for a recommendation.


Flu viruses can also be treated with antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu and Relenza, which are available on prescription by your doctor or directly from your pharmacist. They can make you feel better faster, and may also help stop serious complications from developing. Antibiotics will have no effect on the flu virus.



When should I see the doctor?


If you are feeling very ill, have a high temperature for more than 24 hours or are having difficulty breathing, you should seek medical advice from Healthline (0800 611 116) or call your doctor.



How can I protect myself from the flu?


You can have a vaccination against seasonal flu in the autumn each year. The ‘flu jab’ will protect you from the most common strains of flu virus that are around over the peak flu season (winter). This vaccination is free if you have a high risk of complications from the flu – if you are aged 65 years or over, or you have an ongoing health problem that may compromise your immune system.








Any medical information in this website is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, it is of a general nature only.  Please consult with a health care professional if you have a specific problem. 


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