Simple measures can protect us against flu – but if you do catch it, here’s how to cope with flu symptoms

Flu symptoms could require treating with a flu vaccine iStock

People in close contact with those showing flu symptoms should also consider being immunised (c)iStock

We haven’t had a full-on flu epidemic for 25 years, but the infection is unpredictable and mutates regularly, so we can get it more than once.

Flu is just nasty, and if we’re unlucky we can get serious, even fatal, complications, so it’s important to protect ourselves and groups who are the most vulnerable to it.

Is it flu symptoms – or something else?

Flu symptoms start suddenly within three days of catching it; they’re much worse than
a cold, and you’re already infectious.

You’ll notice fever, shivering, aches and pains, tiredness, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, a dry cough, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

You may then develop complications, especially if you’re in a high risk group, usually bronchitis or pneumonia, but sometimes tonsillitis, ear infection, sinusitis or brain inflammation.

Flu symptoms overlap with serious conditions such as meningitis and malaria.

So if you’ve been abroad, are breathless, confused or drowsy, have chest pain, cough up blood, have neck stiffness or pain when looking at lights, or a rash that doesn’t disappear when pressed with a glass, you’ll need urgent medical advice.

Your GP may then decide to prescribe antivirals or antibiotics, or send you into hospital.

How to dodge flu symptoms

It’s passed on by coughing/sneezing infected droplets which land on surfaces and can be inhaled or picked up on our hands, especially in winter months when we’re socialising in crowded, poorly ventilated rooms, so avoid close contact with others.

Regular handwashing and not touching your face helps, too. Clean communal surfaces such as computer keyboards, desks and phones regularly.

We can help to prevent spreading flu, colds and other viruses by making sure we ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ – always sneeze or cough into a tissue, put it in a covered bin and wash your hands afterwards.

Flu jabs

A good diet and making sure our chronic medical conditions are well controlled will help, but if we’re in an ‘at risk’ group, we should have an annual jab (which changes to match mutations), although it isn’t 100% effective.

It doesn’t contain any live virus, so can’t give you flu, although it may make you feel slightly fluey or give you a sore arm if you’ve had it before.

Check if you’re eligible for a free jab with your GP. Pharmacies can also provide NHS and private immunisations.

Who needs it?

Last year almost three-quarters of people aged over 65 years had flu jabs, but only half those in clinical at risk groups, and even fewer pregnant women and eligible children.

This year it’s recommended for those aged 65 years and over, and those aged six months to under 65 in clinical risk groups (people with poor immunity and their close contacts, and those with heart, lung, kidney, liver, or neurological disease, or diabetes).

Carers, healthcare workers, and people in long-stay residential or nursing homes are also recommended to have it, as well as all pregnant women and most children aged two to seven. Ask at your GP surgery, or visit nhs.uk and search ‘flu vaccine’ for the full list.

 5 ways to cope with flu

  1. Bed rest (you’ll probably have no choice)!
  2. Fluids – you’ll need more than usual; warm diluted squash can soothe a sore throat, too.
  3. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (check with your pharmacist if you have other medical conditionsor take medication).
  4. Throat lozenges, nasal decongestants or a hot-water bottle may help.
  5. Call a doctor if you are very unwell (see left), or suspect complications or that it’s not flu symptoms.