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Influenza (Flu)

You can catch flu - short for influenza - all year round, but it is especially common in winter, which is why it is also known as 'seasonal flu'. Flu causes a sudden high temperature, headache and general aches and pains, tiredness and sore throat. You can also lose your appetite, feel nauseous and have a cough. Flu symptoms can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.

Cause & Risk

The flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone, who is infected, coughs or sneezes. These droplets typically spread about one metre. They hang suspended in the air for a while before landing on surfaces, where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours. Anyone who breathes in the droplets can catch flu. And anyone who touches the surfaces droplets have landed on can also catch flu if they pick up the virus on their hands and then touch their nose or mouth. Everyday items at home and in public places can easily become contaminated with traces of flu virus including food, door handles, the remote control, handrails, telephone handsets and computer keyboards. So, it's important to wash your hands frequently to prevent catching and spreading flu.


The symptoms of flu will usually peak after two to three days and you should begin to feel much better within five to eight days. However, you may have a lingering cough and still feel very tired for a further two to three weeks. Flu can give you any of these symptoms: sudden fever - a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above dry, chesty cough headache tiredness chills aching muscles limb or joint pain diarrhoea or upset stomach sore throat runny or blocked nose sneezing loss of appetite difficulty sleeping.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to visit your G.P. if you have flu-like symptoms. The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a high temperature and relieve aches. You should visit your G.P. if you have flu-like symptoms and you: are 65 years of age or over are pregnant have a long-term medical condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney or neurological disease have a weakened immune system (the body's natural defence against infection and illness). Flu can be more serious for these groups and antiviral medication may need to be prescribed.

Further Information

If you become infected with a flu virus your body will produce antibodies against it. Antibodies are proteins that recognise and fight off germs that have invaded your body. Your antibodies will remember this flu virus and fight it if it invades your body again. But, over time the flu virus can change into a different version or strain, which means your body may not recognise it and you can catch flu again. When the virus changes to a new strain that people have little or no resistance to, it can cause a flu pandemic, which means it can spread globally. This is what happened in the swine flu pandemic of 2009.

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