The flu is a viral infection which is very common and highly infectious. It is particularly common during winter time, although it is possible to catch at any time of year. It is often mistaken for the common cold, however different viruses are responsible for the flu and symptoms are often worse and last longer. London Doctors Clinic explains what you need to know about the Flu:
What Are The Symptoms of The Flu?
Flu symptoms can come on suddenly and leave you feeling like you can’t even get out of bed. Symptoms include the following:
- General aches and pain
- Cold symptoms such as blocked/ runny nose or sore throat
It is normal for these symptoms to last up to a week if you have the flu.
Although a cold and flu have similar symptoms, there are a few crucial differences, such as fever and muscle pain
Flu Symptoms: When To Be Concerned
Very rarely, flu symptoms can be the first presentation of more serious conditions, such as meningitis. The main symptoms of meningitis include:
- Blotchy rash
- That doesn’t fade when a glass is rolled over it
- Difficulty looking at light
- Neck stiffness
If you experience any of the above symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.
What To Do If You Think You Have The Flu?
The flu is a viral illness and therefore cannot be treated with antibiotics. It does not usually require any treatment and you can usually manage it at home with rest, fluids and over the counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
It is best to stay at home and rest until you feel better, which may take up to a week.
If you think you have the flu, it is a good idea to contact your GP if:
- You are pregnant
- You are over the age of 65
- You have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, a heart or kidney condition or neurological problem.
- You have a weak immune system, for example due to HIV or are chemotherapy
- You develop chest pain or shortness of breath
- You cough blood
- Your symptoms are getting worse, even after a week
If you have any of the above your GP may recommend antiviral treatment or treatment for complications of the flu, for example a chest infection.
How Do You Catch The Flu?
The flu virus is carried in water droplets in an infected person’s nose and mouth. These can spread in to the environment when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Infected droplets may spread up to a meter and remain on surfaces for up to 24 hours.
It is therefore possible to catch the flu by inhaling infected droplets in the air or touching contaminated objects and then transferring virus to your mouth, nose or eyes.
Infected droplets from a sneeze can move at a velocity of 50 metres per second up to 6 metres away!
Many different strains of flu viruses exist and so it is difficult to build up immunity towards it. Therefore, even if you have had the flu once you may catch it again.
How Can You Prevent The Flu?
You can prevent spreading and catching the flu by
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water
- Keeping surfaces clean, including your keyboard and mobile phone
- Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Avoiding contact with others while you are infectious (infected people are most infectious the day their symptoms begin until 3-7 days later)
- Being vaccinated
Shared equipment, such as keyboards and mice, are at risk of being contaminated with flu and cold particles from an infected user
The Flu Vaccine
A flu vaccine exists which can protect against catching the flu. As there are many different flu virus strains circulating each year in different places all over the world, it is difficult to produce a vaccine that works for everyone and works against all strains. This is why it is a yearly vaccination and there is no guarantee you won’t get the flu even if you have been vaccinated, however symptoms will still be milder and shorter in duration.
The flu jab is especially recommended if
- You are over 65 years old
- You are pregnant
- You have an underlying condition (usually heart or lung related) or weakened immunity
- Children between the ages of 2-7
If you fall into one of the above groups, you can usually receive the flu vaccine free on the NHS.
At London Doctors Clinic, our GP’s are also able to offer this vaccination at the end of a consultation. This convenient service is able for just an extra £10 and can be done there and then during your afford private doctors appointment. And with 8 central London clinics, it’s never been easier to find a “GP near me“!
By Anna Kessler