Flu information

Flu (influenza) is a common and very infectious illness caused by the influenza virus. The virus is easily spread to other people by coughs and sneezes or by direct contact (like shaking hands). It can be very unpleasant even though it lasts a week or so.

You can catch flu all year round, but it's especially common in winter which is why it's also known as “seasonal flu”.

Flu isn't the same as the common cold. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly, can be more severe and last longer.

Talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you would like further information or advice.

Some of the main symptoms of flu include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
  • extreme tiredness and weakness
  • headache
  • general aches and pains
  • chills

Cold-like symptoms (such as a dry or chesty cough, blocked or runny nose, sneezing, and a sore throat) can also be caused by flu, but they tend to be less severe than the other flu symptoms you have.

Flu can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.

The flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes.

These droplets typically spread about one metre. They hang in the air for a short period of time before landing on surfaces where the virus can live for up to 24 hours.

Anyone who breathes in the droplets or touches a surface contaminated with the virus, and then touches their nose or mouth, can catch flu.

Everyday items at home and in public places can easily become contaminated with the flu virus, including food, door handles, remote controls, handrails, telephone handsets, and computer keyboards. Therefore, it's important to wash your hands frequently.

You can help stop yourself catching flu or spreading it to others with good hygiene measures.

Always wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, as well as:

  • regularly cleaning surfaces (computer keyboard, telephone and door handles) to help get rid of germs
  • using tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • putting used tissues in a bin as soon as possible

You can also help stop the spread of flu by avoiding unnecessary contact with other people while you are ill and have symptoms.

Some people are at risk of more serious illness or complications if they catch flu, so are recommended to have a flu vaccination.

A flu vaccination is offered free of charge on the NHS to people who are considered at risk. This is to help protect them against catching flu and developing serious complications.

As part of the national programme, flu vaccination is recommended if you:

  • are 65 years old or over
  • are pregnant
  • have certain medical conditions as listed below
  • are living in a long-stay residential care home
  • receive a carer's allowance, or you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill

Frontline health and social care workers are also eligible to receive a flu vaccination.

Talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you would like further information or advice.

You are eligible for a flu vaccination if you are aged 65 years and over

Talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you would like further information or advice.

If you are pregnant, a flu vaccination is advised regardless of the stage of pregnancy you've reached. This is because pregnant women are at risk of developing serious illness or complications if they get flu.

Talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you would like further information or advice.

A free flu vaccination is offered on the NHS to anyone with a long-term health condition, including:

  • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases
  • chronic heart disease
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic liver disease
  • chronic neurological conditions
  • diabetes
  • problems with your spleen
  • a weakened immune system
  • being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)

Other conditions may be included and it's always a matter of clinical judgement from your health care professional. Your GP can assess you to consider the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.

If you live with someone who has a weakened immune system, you may also be advised to have a flu vaccination.

Talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you would like further information or advice.

A flu vaccination is free on the NHS for:

  • children over the age of 6 months with a long-term health condition
  • children aged 2 and 3 years in the current season
  • children in primary school

Age groups recommended in the children’s vaccination programme may differ across each country in the UK therefore speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you would like further information or advice.

If you are the main carer for someone who is elderly or disabled, speak to your local GP or pharmacist about having a flu vaccination along with the person you care for.

Outbreaks of flu can occur in health and social care settings. Because flu is so contagious, staff and vulnerable patients/residents are all at risk of infection.

If you are a frontline health and social care worker, you are eligible for a flu vaccination. Find out what arrangements have been made at your place of work.

Flu vaccination can help protect you, your colleagues and the patients and residents you care for.

Talk to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you would like further information or advice.




References:

1. NHS Inform Scotland. Flu. Available at https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/flu Accessed November 2019

2. NHS UK. Who should have a flu vaccine. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/who-should-have-flu-vaccine/ Accessed November 2019

3. Gov.UK. Flu vaccination: who should have it this winter and why. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/flu-vaccination-who-should-have-it-this-winter-and-why Accessed November 2019

Date of preparation: November 2019 | SAGB.IFLU.19.10.1822