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Influenza (Flu)

Influenza – or the flu – is a virus that spreads quickly from person to person. Symptoms include fever, chills, aches, runny nose, a cough and stomach upset. The flu is normally worse than a cold. Immunisation is your best defence against the flu.

Influenza is a viral infection of your nose, throat and sometimes your lungs, but it can affect your whole body. It is a serious viral infection that carries the risk of hospitalisation or even death.

Influenza can sometimes be confused with the common cold, but having the flu is a lot more debilitating. For the vast majority of people, influenza will make you unable to work, play sport or take planned holidays. It can infect your family or leave them looking after you.

Older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from influenza, such as pneumonia. If you’re at higher risk, it is important to see your doctor early, to find out if you need treatment.

The flu spreads quickly from person to person through touch and through the air. The strains of virus that cause influenza are always around us. They constantly change, so having had the flu before does not stop you getting it again.

If you do catch the flu, the best thing you can do is rest at home until you feel better and the fever goes.

  • Drink at least eight glasses of fluid a day. Avoid tea, coffee and alcohol — they can dry you out even more.
  • Eat only light food when you’re hungry. 
  • Take medicine for fever and pain. For children under 6 years, ask your pharmacist which medicines are safe.

Contact your doctor if you have not improved after four days, you are elderly or you have other long-term health problems. Young children with flu also need to be assessed by their doctor. 

To avoid spreading flu virus, please phone your doctor or health clinic before turning up at the surgery, clinic or hospital.

How to help prevent spread of flu

  • Get the flu vaccine.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Stay away from others when you are sick; keep your distance from others who are sick.

Flu vaccination

The influenza vaccine is available to help protect you against influenza. Each year an influenza vaccine is made available in autumn to cover the most common flu strains expected to be circulating for that season.

Hand washing

  • Wash your hands often, preferably with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, then dry them, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Wash your hands, e.g., before preparing food or eating, after going to the toilet, after tending to sick people
  • Wash your hands after returning from the supermarket or communal areas like malls.
  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, after wiping children’s noses, or if you have handled soiled tissues.
  • Try not to touch your nose, mouth, ears or eyes unnecessarily, as the flu virus can enter the body through these areas.
  • Clean surfaces around the house regularly, e.g., door handles, telephone, bathroom surfaces – more often if someone in the household has symptoms.
  • Don’t share glasses, drink bottles or cutlery, and wash dishes thoroughly.
  • Try to ‘contain’ a sneeze or cough by covering your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue.
  • Disposable tissues should be also used for blowing the nose.
  • Used tissues should be disposed of straightaway in a plastic bag or lined bin with a lid (preferably one you don’t need to touch, such as a pedal bin).

Keep your distance

  • If someone has symptoms such as sneezing and coughing, try to keep at least one metre away from them.
  • Try to avoid being among large groups of people or in crowded places.
  • If you, a child or family member is unwell with suspected flu, try to prevent the spread by keeping them at home — and away from any visitors.
  • Try to keep other members of the household separate from an unwell family member.


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