Flu season is once again imminent. With the cold winter weather come the usual sniffs and coughs, but how do you know whether or not you have flu? Recognising the difference between a cold and the flu virus, and knowing the best forms of flu self care, can take a lot of pressure off busy GP surgeries and hospitals.
New Zealand and Australia usually serve as good indicators of the coming flu season. In general, if they have suffered high levels of flu during the winter months, the UK is likely to follow suit. This year, New Zealand and Australia have seen the highest rates of flu in years, threatening the most vulnerable members of society and putting strain on their hospitals.
There are ways to limit the spread of flu, most notably by following some crucial flu self care advice, meaning you can look after yourself at home without the need for a GP appointment. Here’s some tips and information to help you beat flu this winter:
Flu is a common virus, most often spread by coughs and sneezes. The main symptoms of flu include:
- A high temperature of 38C or more
- Tiredness and weakness
- A headache
- General aches and pains
- A dry, chesty cough
- Fairly mild cold like symptoms, such as a blocked nose or sore throat, may also occur
Generally speaking, you will begin to feel ill within a few days of catching the virus, and you should feel better within a week. The tiredness may continue longer.
Some people are more at risk than others of catching the flu virus, and of subsequent complications. If you have flu, you should try to avoid contact with the following groups from the day your symptoms start and for another 3 to 7 days following:
- Over 65s
- Pregnant women
- Those with a long-term medical condition
- Those with a weakened immune system
- Young children and babies
You can avoid spreading the flu virus to others by washing your hands regularly, regularly cleaning well-used surfaces, and binning used tissues as soon as possible.
The Flu Vaccine
The NHS flu vaccine is given free to over 65s, pregnant women, children and adults with an underlying health condition, and children and adults with a weakened immune system.
Healthy children aged 2-4 are also offered a nasal spray vaccine which can be administered at the GP surgery or at school by a school nurse. If your child is aged up to 4 and is in school, you will receive a letter from the school. Otherwise, you will be contacted by your surgery or health visitor to arrange the vaccination,
You will see advertisements for the flu jab in your doctors’ surgery and your local pharmacy. You can also receive the jab at either of these places. Pregnant women will also be offered their jab as part of their ante-natal care.
Flu Self Care
If you do not fall into one of the at-risk categories, it is unlikely that you will need to see a doctor for flu-like symptoms. Instead, flu self care is your best option. The following can help to ease your symptoms:
- Resting at home
- Keeping warm
- Drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen for a high temperature and to relieve aches and pains
If you feel you need further treatment you can visit a pharmacist for advice. They can recommend the best over-the-counter flu remedies and some natural ways to relieve your symptoms.
When to see your GP
If you fall into one of the at-risk categories, you may need medication to help you deal with the symptoms of flu. In this case, make an appointment with your GP to see what they advise.
You should also see a GP if you begin to suffer chest pains, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or if you start to cough up blood.
You may also wish to see your GP if your symptoms persist for over a week, or if they seem to be worsening rather than improving.
For the most part, complications such as these are rare. In a normal case of flu, there is little your GP can do other than advise you to take the steps indicated above. Flu is a virus and as such does not respond to antibiotic treatment.
If you would like more information on flu, or if you have flu and would like to discuss whether or not you need to see a doctor, you can call NHS Direct by dialling 111. They can tell you whether or not your symptoms are likely to be flu, advise you on the best forms of treatment, and let you know whether or not a visit to your GP would be worthwhile. If so, NHS Direct can also direct you straight your local out of hours service.