flu head pic


When winter beckons we all dread the shortening days and another season of coughing, sneezing and spluttering our way towards spring. Influenza or flu is one of the more severe winter lurgy’s that hides on the hands of school children, on the seats of public buses and on the lips of that guy you snogged last night. Flu is a prevalent virus that most of us get at one point or another and survey after a couple of days in bed. During a bout of flu you will undoubtedly feel pretty crappy and can have some worrying signs and symptoms. We go through what to expect of your flu, how you can tell it apart from a cold, how to treat yourself and when you should be paying the doc a visit.

+   Symptoms

Symptoms of the flu are usually more severe than that of your average cold and will differ a little depending on what strain of flu you are suffering with. Flu is most common in winter but you can get it at any time of year so if you have the symptoms below don’t just pawn it off to allergies:

cough flu
    Fever (usually high, over 38°C)
  • Chills
    • These often occur alongside a fever
  • Aches and Pains
    • In joints
    • In muscles
  • Headache
  • Chest discomfort
  • Dry cough
    • One which doesn’t bring up or loosen any mucus or phlegm
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may occur with some strains of flu
  • Trouble sleeping
    • This is usually due to the symptoms of flu causing you discomfort and making it difficult for you to sleep rather than a symptom itself

+   Cold vs Flu??

It can be difficult to tell the flu from a cold. The flu is usually much more severe than a cold and requires a little extra TLC to get better. There are a couple of other tell, tell signs you can look for in your symptoms:

fever flu
  • Fever
    • A high fever is common with the flu but any kind of fever is uncommon with a cold
  • Onset
    • The onset of the flu is very fast and symptoms will show up within 3-6 hours colds on the other hand appear over one or two days
  • Area affected
    • Colds tend to only affect you from the neck up. Flu however, will have a system wide affect causing aches and pains throughout your whole body
  • Chest and Nose Symptoms
    • Your cough with the flu will be dry and non-productive (a cough that doesn’t bring up or loosen any mucus or phlegm). With a cold it is more likely to be productive (it will sound chesty and to loosen phlegm)
    • It is uncommon with the flu to get a runny nose, with a cough however, a runny or stuffy nose is very common

+   Causes

Flu is caused by a type of virus that leads to a respiratory infection. It is different to a cold virus and causes a more severe infection though they both have similar effects. This type of infection mainly affects your lungs but will also probably have an impact on your whole body as your immune system attempts to fight it off.

The virus spreads through the air on water droplets people expel as they cough, sneeze, talk and breathe. The virus can travel up to 1m away from a person and may contaminate objects like door handles or counter tops. It is therefore pretty contagious.

The flu virus is constantly changing and evolving in response to people’s immune systems and to medicines, this evolution creates new strains. When you get the flu your body will create antibodies to fight it off, these then stay in your system to help fight the virus again quicker next time. As the flu evolves rapidly these anti bodies may not be effective at fighting a new strain meaning you will more easily get ill with the flu again.

infection virus chest

+   Treatment

As flu is a virus antibiotics will not help. Antibiotics are only effective on bacterial infections. The best way to treat flu is let it run its course while you rest and look after yourself. Flu symptoms usually peak at around the 2 or 3 day mark and after a week you should be feeling much better. In the meantime make sure you:

rest flu
  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of water and fluids to stop dehydration
  • Bring down your fever if it is very high
    • Over the counter flu medicines that you can get from your pharmacist often include paracetamol or ibuprofen which will help to reduce your temperature as well as helping with some of your other symptoms

Most the time the flu goes away on its own however, sometimes is can lead to more severe infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis or sinus infections. There are also certain populations that are more vulnerable to flu. You should see your GP if:

  • Your cough gets to be severe or lasts past 2 weeks
  • Your chest becomes tight and it hurts to breathe
  • You have severe pain in your sinuses
  • You are pregnant
  • You have diabetes
  • You have kidney disease
  • You have a weakened immune system

In these cases your GP will likely prescribe you an anti-viral drug to help fight off the infection

If you or someone you know becomes severely dehydrated and starts to show signs of lethargy or confusion you should go to A and E.

+   Prevention

Flu can be prevented by practicing good hygiene such as washing your hands thoroughly and by avoiding sharing cutlery or drinks with others.

However, in certain types of people are recommended to get a flu vaccine and the NHS offers the flu vaccine free of charge to:

  • Pregnant women
  • Healthcare workers or carers
  • Those with serious medical conditions
  • Elderly people

Despite common belief, you cannot contract the flu from the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine does not contain the active flu virus.

vaccines flu

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