Flu occurs every year, usually in the winter, which is why it’s sometimes called seasonal flu.
It’s a highly infectious disease with symptoms that come on very quickly. A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold.
Healthy individuals usually recover from flu within 2 to 7 days, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.
Check if you have the flu
Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:
- a sudden fever – a temperature of 38C or above
- an aching body
- feeling tired or exhausted
- a dry cough
- a sore throat
- a headache
- difficulty sleeping
- loss of appetite
- diarrhoea or tummy pain
- feeling sick and being sick
The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.
Telling the difference between a cold and flu
Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat.
Whilst symptoms are similar, flu tends to be more severe.
|Appears quickly within a few hours||Appears gradually|
|Affects more than just your nose and throat||Affects mainly your nose and throat|
|Makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal||Makes you feel unwell, but you're OK to carry on as normal (for example, go to work)|
GPs do not recommend antibiotics for flu because they will not relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.
You can often treat the flu without seeing a GP and should begin to feel better in about a week.
Talk to a pharmacist for treatment advice and recommended flu remedies.
To help you get better more quickly:
- have plenty of rest and sleep
- keep warm
- take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains
- drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)
You can find out more about how to treat the flu on NHS choices.
When to see a doctor
Contact your GP if:
- you're worried about your baby's or child's symptoms
- you're 65 or over
- you're pregnant
- you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes or heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
- you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or HIV
- your symptoms do not improve after 7 days
Avoid spreading the flu
You can prevent the spread of flu by:
- using tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
- binning used tissues as quickly as possible
- washing your hands frequently or using hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus
Protection against flu
Flu is unpredictable and some people are more susceptible to the effects of flu.
For susceptible groups of people, the flu vaccine is the best protection against a virus that can cause a severe illness.
Flu vaccines are offered in the autumn as it is most effective to get the vaccine before winter flu starts circulating.
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