- Various viruses can cause a flu-like illness. There is usually a seasonal outbreak of influenza (flu) in the UK each winter.
- Flu-like illnesses typically cause a temperature, aches and pains in muscles and joints, a cough, and various other symptoms.
- Typically, symptoms peak after 1-2 days, then usually gradually ease over several days. An irritating cough may persist for a week or so after other symptoms have gone.
- Most people recover fully within 1-2 weeks, but complications such as pneumonia develops in some cases. Complications are sometimes serious and even fatal in some cases.
- If you are at increased risk of developing complications, you should be immunised against seasonal flu each autumn.
What is the treatment for flu and flu-like illnesses?
- Your immune system will usually clear viruses that cause flu and flu-like illnesses. Treatment aims to ease symptoms until the infection goes, and to prevent complications.
- Treatment consists of general measures, antibiotics in some situations, and admission to hospital for the small number of people who become very ill (usually because of a complication that develops).
- Paracetamol and/or ibuprofen can lower your temperature, and also ease aches and pains. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. It is best not to smoke. Decongestant drops, throat lozenges and saline nose drops may be helpful to ease nose and throat symptoms.
- Antibiotics kill bacteria, but do not kill viruses. Therefore, they are not routinely prescribed for viral illnesses such as flu or flu-like illnesses. However, they may be used if a complication develops such as a secondary bacterial chest infection or pneumonia.
Who should be immunised against the seasonal influenza virus?
The actual strain varies from year to year and a new vaccine is developed each year to protect against the prevailing strain.
The following people should be immunised:
- Are aged 65 or over.
- Have any chronic (ongoing) lung diseases. Examples include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis and severe asthma (needing regular steroid inhalers or tablets). It is also recommended for any child who has previously been admitted to hospital with a chest infection.
- Have a chronic heart disease.
- Examples include angina, heart failure or if you have ever had a heart attack.
- Have a serious kidney disease. Examples include nephrotic syndrome, kidney failure, a kidney transplant.
- Have a serious liver disease such as cirrhosis.
- Have diabetes.
- Have a poor immune system. Examples include if you are receiving chemotherapy or steroid treatment (for more than a month), if you have HIV/AIDS or if you have had your spleen removed.
- Have certain serious diseases of the nervous system such as multiple sclerosis.
- Live in a nursing home or other long stay residential care accommodation.
In addition to the main 'at risk' groups of people listed above:
- You should be immunised if you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill with influenza.
- Staff involved in direct patient care may be offered a flu jab from their employer.
- If you work in close contact with poultry you should be immunised. This is a precautionary public health measure by the Department of Health.
If you are healthy and under 65 and do not fall into any of the above categories, then you do not need immunisation against seasonal flu. This is because you are unlikely to develop complications from flu.
The vaccine gives good protection against the seasonal influenza virus, and lasts for one year. The vaccine is normally ready by the autumn each year. It is made from the strain of influenza virus that is expected in the coming winter. You need a yearly immunisation to keep protected.