Influenza (flu)

Influenza (flu)

The flu season in the UK is considered to run from October through to March. In most years it tends to occur within an eight to ten week period starting around mid-November.



Influenza (flu) is a highly infectious disease of the respiratory tract. There are three types of influenza virus – A, B and C.  A and B are responsible for most clinical illnesses.  The make up of the various strains of the virus change progressively, this results in changes to the presenting virus from one season to the next and immunity developed in one season offering limited or no protection in subsequent seasons.


The virus can spread rapidly especially in closed environments like offices, classrooms, work places and care establishments.  Transmission is by aerosol droplets or direct contact with infected respiratory secretions it is typically spread by germs from coughs and sneezes which can live on hands and surfaces for up to 24 hours.


The flu season in the UK is considered to run from October through to March.  In most years it tends to occur within an eight to ten week period starting around mid-November.


Flu is not the same as the common cold.  Flu is caused by a different group of viruses, symptoms tend to start more suddenly and are more severe.


In otherwise healthy individuals, flu is an unpleasant but usually self -limiting disease, with a recovery period of about 7 days, although, tiredness may prevail for longer.


The risk of serious illness is highest amongst children under six months, older people, pregnant women and those with an underlying health condition such as :-


  • Chronic respiratory conditions, e.g. severe asthma, C.O.P.D. or bronchitis
  • Chronic heart disease, e.g. heart failure
  • Chronic kidney and liver disease
  • Neurological conditions; Parkinson’s Disease or Motor Neurone Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Splenic dysfunction or asplenia
  • A weakened immune system, due to disease (such as HIV or AIDS) or treatment (such as immunosuppressants or chemotherapy)
  • Obesity (Class III) Body Mass Index ≥ 40 kg / m2


Influenza is characterised by the sudden onset of fever (Temperature of 38C or above) chills, headache, myalgia (muscle aches and pains) and extreme fatigue.  Flu can make you feel so exhausted, that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.


Other common symptoms include a dry cough, sore throat and blocked nose.  Some strains of flu can cause diarrhoea, tummy pain, nausea and vomiting.


Flu may be complicated by bronchitis and pneumonia, especially in older people and those with a chronic illness.  In children, inflammation and infection of the inner ear can also become a complication.

Rare complications include meningitis, encephalitis or a complication resembling both conditions; meningoencephalitis.


What to do if you contract flu


The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.  You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a high temperature and relieve aches and pains.  Stay off work or school until you feel better, for most, this will be no more than 1 week.  If other symptoms become particularly troublesome, over the counter flu remedies can provide appropriate relief.


Consider contacting your G.P. if you are, 65 years of age or over, pregnant or have a long term condition listed above.


If you develop chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing up blood or your symptoms are continuing to get worse and have not improved after a week, again, contact your G.P.


Preventing Flu


You can reduce your chances of catching flu or spreading it to others, with good hygiene measures, to get rid of germs.


Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, it is also advisable to regularly clean surfaces such as your computer keyboard, phone and door handles.


Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and place any used tissues immediately into the bin.


You can help stop the spread of flu by avoiding unnecessary contact with others while you are infectious.


An annual flu vaccination is recommended to reduce the risk of catching flu and spreading it to others.


Influenza Vaccination


The flu vaccine is the best available protection against flu.  It is very safe and only takes a few minutes.


The vaccine takes around 10 to 14 days to take effect and should help protect you from flu for around 1 year.


The vaccine is offered throughout the flu season, from October through to March, but the earlier you get it, the less likely you are to contract flu.


Over the last 10 years, the vaccines in use have generally been a good match for the circulating strains of flu, so you can be confident that getting vaccinated is the best way to protect you and your family against flu.