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The Ultimate Guide To Flu

Are you worrying about the current outbreak of Aussie flu and wondering if it may affect you? Maybe you’re unsure how to tell if you have a cold or flu? Or perhaps you want to know more about the flu vaccine and who should have it?

Read our ultimate guide to flu and learn more about this common winter illness.

What different kinds of flu are there?

Influenza, commonly known simply as “flu”, is a common issue during the winter. There are a number of different viruses circulating at any one time that cause flu in humans. They are categorised as A, B or C depending on their severity (A being the most severe and C being the least). These viruses can change and mutate, which is why there is a new flu vaccine each year.

One of the more prevalent strains of flu this year is H3N2, which has been labelled “Aussie flu” due to the issues it has caused in Australia during the country’s 2017 flu season. According to Public Health England, besides Aussie flu, the other two main strains covered by the vaccine this season are H1N1 (also an A strain) and a B strain. The nasal spray also contains a second B strain of the flu virus.

Flu is generally an issue during the winter in areas of temperate climate. In tropical climates outbreaks can occur at any point throughout the year.

You can check the Flu Survey website to see how many cases of flu-like illnesses have been reported in your area.

What are the symptoms of flu?

People often don’t realise when they are suffering from flu because they expect to have a streaming nose and sore throat, as if they have a very bad cold. In reality, flu symptoms can be very different to cold symptoms and affect the whole body.

One of the main differences between the two is that flu comes on much more suddenly than the common cold does. Flu makes you feel very unwell, to the point where it is difficult to continue with your daily life or even just get out of bed.

If you are suffering from flu you will have a high fever and your body and joints will ache. You may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Tiredness and exhaustion

  • Dry cough

  • Sore throat

  • Headache

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Appetite loss

  • Diarrhoea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

What is the flu jab?

The viruses that cause flu can change and mutate each year. This means that each year, a new flu vaccination is developed to combat the strains of flu that are predicted to be an issue during the upcoming flu season. If you are someone who has the flu vaccination, you therefore need to have it each year to make sure you are covered for that year’s flu season.  

The flu jab is the best defence against the flu. Whilst it won’t necessarily stop you from getting flu, if you do get flu after having the vaccination it will generally be much less severe.

Should I have the flu vaccination?

For the majority of healthy people, flu should clear up within a week. However for some people, flu can pose more of a risk. According to the NHS, the following groups of people should have the flu vaccination:

  • People over the age of 65

  • Pregnant women

  • Children and adults with other health conditions

  • Children and adults with weak immune systems

If you’re unsure whether you should have the flu vaccine, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

You shouldn’t have the flu vaccine if you’ve ever had a serious allergic reaction to a flu jab.

If you are in one of the categories above, having the flu vaccination will ensure that if you do catch flu, it won’t linger and develop into something more serious like pneumonia or a chest infection.

For most adults, the flu vaccination comes in the form of an injection. However for children, the vaccination is generally administered in a nasal spray.

Generally, the best time of year to have the flu vaccine is October or early November. This gives the vaccine the best chance at effectiveness for the coming flu season. However if for some reason you didn’t get around to having the vaccination in the autumn, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it later in the season.

You should also have the vaccine even if you’ve had flu already this winter. This is because there is more than one strain of flu and the vaccination may offer you protection against strains you haven’t had.

Is there any other way to treat flu?

There’s no cure for flu when you have it. All you can do is take remedies to ease your symptoms, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and get lots of rest and sleep. This is why people who are at risk of becoming very ill if they catch flu should have the vaccination.

It is important to bear in mind that since flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics are completely ineffective against it.

There are various flu remedies that you buy over the counter or online. Tamiflu is available to buy through Instant eCare. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are both helpful medications when you are suffering from the flu, as paracetamol helps to lower your temperature and both treatments help to relieve pain.  

What should I do if I think I have the flu?

If you think you have flu, you should avoid going into your doctor’s surgery as you risk passing the virus on to others. If you are in one of the higher risk categories (you’re over the age of 65, pregnant, or having an underlying health condition or weak immune system) you should speak to your GP. You can phone your doctor for advice rather than going into the surgery. You could also speak to your pharmacist for advice on over the counter flu remedies.

Otherwise, the best thing you can do is stay at home and rest. Sleep as much as you need to. Make sure you stay warm and comfortable, and drink plenty of liquids so you don’t become dehydrated.

You can take paracetamol and ibuprofen to treat a fever and any aches and pains you may be suffering from, although make sure you don’t take ibuprofen on an empty stomach. You shouldn’t take flu remedies at the same time as paracetamol or ibuprofen, however, as over-the-counter flu remedies often include one or both of these medications.

How to avoid spreading the flu

Flu is highly infectious and you’re most likely to spread this illness to other people in the first five days of having it. As we’ve already mentioned above, it’s best to avoid going into your doctor’s surgery. Instead, you can phone your GP for advice.

Other good advice to follow is to wash your hands regularly and to use tissues when you sneeze. Make sure you throw the tissues in the bin as soon as possible, because the flu virus can actually live for up to 24 hours outside of the human body.

Can flu cause other complications?

For the majority of people, flu should pass without any complications. It can be very unpleasant, but the immune system of a healthy person can usually deal with the virus in around a week.

Where flu can cause issues is with older people, pregnant women and adults and children with underlying health conditions or weak immune systems. For these groups of people, flu can lead to complications such as pneumonia or chest infections. Having the flu vaccine significantly minimises the risk of this happening.

Should I go to hospital?

If you develop any chest pain, have trouble breathing, or begin coughing up blood, you should go to A&E or call 999.

If you have any concerns whatsoever about your health, whether you think you may have flu or another illness, be sure to see a medical professional who can give you advice tailored to your personal circumstances.

References

NHS: Flu

NHS: Flu Jab

NHS: Flu Myths

BBC: What is 'Aussie' flu and should we be worried?

Public Health England

World Health Organisation

Flu Survey