Hospital Trust

What is flu and how will I know I’ve got it?

Flu is very infectious and can be easily spread to other people usually in the winter and early spring. The flu virus attacks the body by spreading through the respiratory tract.

Flu occurs every year which is why it’s sometimes called seasonal flu. It’s a highly infectious disease with symptoms that come on very quickly. Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat. A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold.

The most common symptoms of flu are:

  • fever
  • chills
  • headache
  • aches and pains in the joints and muscles
  • extreme tiredness

Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.

What causes flu?

Flu is caused by viruses and is caught when an infected person coughs or sneezes tiny drops of saliva. These droplets can then breathed in by other people or picked up by touching surfaces where droplets have landed. The viruses can live on unwashed hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

The influenza viruses infects the windpipe and lungs and because it’s caused by viruses and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t treat it. If, however, there are complications from getting flu, antibiotics may be needed.

Am I at an increased risk from the effects of flu?

Flu can affect anyone but if you have a long-term health condition the effects of flu can make it worse even if the condition is well managed and you normally feel well.

What harm can flu do?

People sometimes think a bad cold is flu, but having flu can be much worse than a cold and you may need to stay in bed for a few days.

Some people are more susceptible to the effects of flu. For them, it can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or can make existing conditions worse. In the worst cases, flu can result in a stay in hospital, or even death.