Flu shares some of the same symptoms as a cold such as sneezing, coughing and a sore throat, but they are caused by different viruses. There are around 200 viruses that cause colds and three that cause flu. There are many strains of these flu viruses, and the vaccine changes every year to protect against the most common ones. Flu can be much more serious than a cold.
Flu viruses are spread by droplets that are sneezed or coughed out by an infected person. Other people can breathe in these droplets or transfer the droplets to their eyes or nose on their fingers.
Flu usually comes on much more quickly than a cold, and symptoms include:
- sudden fever of 38-40°C (100-104°F)
- muscle aches and pains
- feeling exhausted and needing to lie down
- dry, chesty cough
Flu symptoms appear one to three days after infection and most people recover within a week, although you will feel tired for longer. A severe cold can also cause muscle aches and fever, so it can be hard to tell the difference.
Some people need to take extra care as they're more at risk of serious chest complications, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. People over 65 are more at risk of complications. People under 65, including children, are more at risk of complications if they have serious heart or chest complaints, serious kidney disease or liver disease, diabetes, lowered immunity due to disease or medical treatment, had a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA). Pregnant women are also included in this risk group.
The best protection against the flu virus is a vaccination, and everyone in an at-risk group is eligible for a free flu jab.
Protect yourself and others against flu by coughing or sneezing into a tissue, throwing a used tissue away as soon as possible, washing your hands as soon as possible and having a flu jab every year if you're in an at-risk group.
If you're generally fit and healthy, you can usually manage the symptoms of flu yourself without seeing a doctor. Look after yourself by resting, drinking non-alcoholic fluids to avoid dehydration and avoiding strenuous activity. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can relieve aches and pains.
Get medical help if you have a chronic condition (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), or you have a very high fever as well as an unusually severe headache or abdominal or chest pain.
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