Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year.

Antibiotics with not treat the flu.

It can be very unpleasant, but you will usually begin to feel better within about a week.

Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:

  • a sudden fever – a temperature of 38C or above
  • an aching body
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • feeling sick and being sick

The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.

Cold and flu symptoms are similar, but flu tends to be more severe. Flu will appear within a few hours, affect more than just the nose and throat and makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal whereas a cold will appear gradually, affect mainly your nose and throat and makes you feel unwell, but you are still ok to carry on as normal and for example, go to work.

To help you get better more quickly, you need to:

  • rest and sleep
  • keep warm
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains. Be careful not to use flu remedies if you're taking paracetamol and ibuprofen tablets as it's easy to take more than the recommended dose.  A Pharmacist can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies.
  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)

Flu germs can spread even before symptoms appear, and you can infect others up to a week after you first become sick. By practicing a few simple rules at home, you can help keep your family healthy and prevent the flu from spreading:

  • get vaccinated
  • use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth as flu germs can live on hands and surfaces for up to 24 hours
  • wash your hands often
  • limit contact with family members who are ill
  • clean your home, including kitchen sponges, dishcloths, cutting boards, desks, floors, sinks and toilets
  • practice a healthy lifestyle to boost your immune system. this includes getting plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids, exercise regularly and manage your stress

Get advice from 111 now if:

  • you're worried about your baby's or child's symptoms
  • you're 65 or over
  • you're pregnant
  • you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes or a heart, lung, kidney or neurological disease
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or HIV
  • your symptoms do not improve after 7 days

111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.

Go to 111.nhs.uk or call 111.

Immediate action required:

Call 999 or go to A&E if you:

  • develop sudden chest pain
  • have difficulty breathing
  • start coughing up blood


Page last updated - August 2023

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