Flu is the shortened version of the word 'influenza'. It is a widespread viral infection.

The symptoms of flu are similar to those of a common cold but they are far more severe and can last for up to two weeks. Anyone suffering from flu will probably not feel like getting out of bed. The symptoms appear rapidly and can include:

  • fever which is characterised by a temperature of 38ÂșC or above and alternate bouts of shivering and hot sweats
  • aches and pains all over the body
  • loss of appetite
  • severe headache
  • feeling sick
  • vomiting
  • exhaustion
  • feeling unsteady when standing up
  • sore throat
  • runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • cough
  • watery eyes

Flu is more widespread during the winter months. During the cold weather people tend to stay indoors more and flu is more easily spread in closed environments. Flu can not be caught by sitting in a draught or by being cold or wet. It is contagious especially in the early stages.

Causes

Flu is caused by viruses. Viruses can be released into the air when a person coughs or sneezes. These tiny airborne droplets circulate and can enter another person's body through the mouth, nose or eyes. Viruses can also be passed by close contact. Shaking someone's hand after they have sneezed or wiped their nose can spread the virus.

Avoiding Flu

Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly.Avoid close contact with anyone suffering from flu.

To help prevent the spread of infection, sneeze and cough into a handkerchief or tissue and keep away from others.

Treatment

There is no cure for flu but the virus should disappear on its own without treatment. Antibiotics will not help to cure flu: they are used to fight infections caused by bacteria or fungi, not viruses.

Simple pain relief treatments containing either aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen can help to ease aches and pains and reduce fever.

Pastilles or lozenges can ease a sore throat. Simply increasing the amount of saliva produced in the mouth helps to soothe the throat. Some contain anaesthetics, which numb the pain. Gargling with soluble aspirin solution can also help to ease a sore throat. A blocked nose or blocked sinuses can be relieved by decongestants, which reduce swelling. Many people find that menthol steam inhalations also help to relieve congestion.

Different types of coughs should be treated in different ways. A dry, tickly cough needs a suppressant cough mixture and a chesty cough which produces phlegm (mucus) needs an expectorant cough mixture.

Petroleum jelly (soft paraffin) can soothe a sore nose and chapped lips.Many remedies contain a variety of ingredients to treat the many symptoms of flu.A flu vaccine is available which is recommended for anyone over the age of 65, those with heart or lung disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney problems or a weakened immune or defence system. Further information about the flu vaccine can be obtained from your doctor.

Drinking plenty of fluid, resting and keeping warm will also help.

When To See A Doctor

If your symptoms do not improve after two weeks or if any other worrying symptoms develop, consult your doctor. The elderly or frail or anyone suffering from a chest complaint, heart disease, kidney disorder or diabetes should all go and see a doctor if they develop flu.

Babies should be taken to a doctor if they develop flu.

Additional Information

Leaflets about coughs or colds are also available from this pharmacy.