General Practice

Flu (Influenza)

Introduction to Flu (Influenza)

Influenza, or flu, is a very common and highly infectious viral illness that usually lasts for around 5 days.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is the Flu (Influenza)?

Influenza, or flu, is a very common and highly infectious viral illness that usually lasts for around 5 days. You will start to experience symptoms similar to a cold within a couple of days of becoming infected, but the condition usually resolves itself without the need for treatment. Whilst it is often referred to as seasonal flu because it is much common during the winter months, it is possible to catch the flu all year round.
It is spread easily through coughs, sneezes and direct contact with infected individuals. Although everyone is at risk of catching the flu, the elderly and those with underlying health problems are at a greater risk of developing more serious complications.

What causes the flu?

The flu is caused by a different group of viruses to the common cold. There are three distinct types of flu: A, B and C. Types A and B are typically responsible for the large seasonal outbreaks, whereas type C often causes milder symptoms.
These viruses are highly infectious and can be passed from person to person easily. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus is spread through droplets in the air. These can remain in the air for a short period of time before settling on surrounding objects, where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours. You can catch the illness by touching a contaminated object and then touching your hand or nose. Unfortunately, because the virus changes very regularly, it is possible to catch the flu on many occasions in your lifetime.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Although symptoms can be similar to a cold, they are usually more severe, start more suddenly and last longer when caused by the flu. The main symptoms include: Headache, fever – a high temperature, sweating, dry cough, sore throat, muscle aches and pains, weakness, blocked or runny nose and tiredness.

Exhaustion is often very severe with this illness. Whilst you should begin to feel better within a week of getting the illness, you may continue to feel tired for up to 3 weeks.

How is the flu treated?

If you are otherwise healthy treatment is often unnecessary, and you should begin to feel better within a week. Drinking plenty of water in combination with lots of bed rest is the best way to encourage your recovery, and ibuprofen or paracetamol can be used to help relieve muscle aches and lower your temperature. Because it is a viral illness, antibiotics are not used to treat the flu.
The best way to prevent catching the illness is ensuring you adhere to good hygiene measures: washing your hands regularly with warm water and soap, avoiding contact with infected individuals and regularly cleaning your home or work environment can all prevent you catching the flu. You may be eligible for a free flu vaccine if you: Are over the age of 65, are pregnant, suffer from a long term health condition, such diabetes, heart or lung disease, have a body mass index over 40 or hHave a weakened immune system, for example if you have HIV/AIDS.

You should consider contacting your GP for further advice if you fit into any of the above categories or you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, start coughing up blood, or if your symptoms persist for longer than a week. In situations such as these it may be necessary to treat or prevent complications of the flu, such as worsening an existing conditions or developing a bacterial chest infection.

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