“Feed a cold, starve a fever,” the saying goes. But if you’ve ever been hit with a spout of the flu then you’ll know this old wives’ tale does very little to get you through. Cue a week of being bedridden with roaring temperatures and aching muscles.
And with Australia and New Zealand recovering from one of their heaviest flu seasons in history, health officials are predicting that the NHS is about to face the worst flu season to date.
From signs and symptoms to remedies and prevention – here’s all you need to know if you feel the flu coming on.
Flu is an infectious viral illness. Carried in droplets that come out of the nose and mouth, it’s easily spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Anyone who breathes in these droplets can catch the flu. Because the virus can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours, it’s very easy to contaminate shared spaces.
Good hygiene and regularly cleaning kitchen surfaces, door handles, telephones and desk spaces is a good way of preventing infection.
What are the symptoms of flu?
It’s easy to confuse the symptoms of a common cold with those of the flu. Usually, flu symptoms start very quickly, include fever and aching muscles and leave you feeling unable to carry out your normal daily activities.
Flu symptoms include:
- A sudden fever of 38 degrees or higher
- A dry, chesty cough
- A headache
- Tiredness and weakness
- Aching muscles
- Limb or joint pain
- Diarrhoea or abdomnial pain
- Nausea and Vomiting
- A sore throat
- A runny or blocked nose
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
How long are you contagious when you have the flu?
Flu symptoms usually last between three and seven days. You are infectious from the moment your symptoms start, so it is important to stay off work or school until they ease.
However, some symptoms – such as coughing and tiredness – can persist. Individuals have different strength immune systems, so there isn’t a set time frame within which you are infectious.
Those with weaker immune systems will be contagious for longer. It is important to be vigilant with hygiene after you’ve recovered to prevent further contamination.
How long does the flu last?
While most sufferers fully recover from the flu within a week, some symptoms – such as a cough or feeling weak and tired – can persist for a few weeks following the infection.
What should I do if I have the flu?
Fit and healthy individuals who are infected with the flu virus can be treated at home. The NHS advise sufferers to rest at home and keep warm until symptoms ease. It’s important to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Over the counter pain killers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol can help relieve symptoms. High risk patients (those over the age of 65, pregnant or with existing health conditions) should contact their GP.
When should you go to the doctor for the flu?
If you are a high risk patient, the NHS advises that you visit your GP at the first sign of flu symptoms. High risk patients include those over the age of 65, pregnant or with existing health conditions.
How can you prevent spreading the flu?
The virus is carried in small droplets in the mouth and nose. If you are infected, anything that stops the spread of these droplets will prevent spreading.
For example, washing your hands regularly, keeping surfaces cleana and staying at home while infectioious.
Should you get the flu vaccine?
The NHS offer a flu vaccine for indiviuals at high risk. This includes anyone over the age of 65, pregnant women, children and adults with underlying health conditions and those with weakened immune systems. Those eligible for a vaccine are advised to get it once a year during autumn (October to November.)