Influenza can sometimes be confused with the common cold, but having the flu is a lot more debilitating. For the vast majority of people, influenza will make you unable to work, play sport or take planned holidays. It can infect your family or leave them looking after you.
Special care is needed when children, the elderly or those with long-term health problems get influenza – in these people it can be serious and life-threatening.
The influenza virus is very infectious and is spread from person to person by the fine spray expelled from the nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. The strains of virus that cause influenza are always around us. They constantly change, so having had the flu before does not stop you getting it again.
You are likely to have a combination of symptoms including cough, sore throat, runny nose and eyes, headache, and usually high fever or chills, fatigue, aching muscles and joints and, in some people, breathing difficulties.
These symptoms can last for up to a week. It will probably be a few weeks before you feel like you've fully recovered from the flu.
Occasionally, the infection spreads to the lungs, causing bronchitis or pneumonia. This is more likely in the elderly, heavy smokers and people in poor health, eg, with asthma or other chest complaints.
The best thing you can do is rest at home until you feel better and the fever goes.
Contact your doctor if you have not improved after four days, you are elderly or you have other long-term health problems. Young children with flu also need to be assessed by their doctor.
NOTE: To avoid spreading flu virus, it is recommended to phone your doctor or health clinic before turning up at the surgery, clinic or hospital.
Influenza is caused by a virus so antibiotics do not help unless you get a secondary bacterial infection (eg, pneumonia or sinusitis) following the flu.
The influenza vaccine helps protect against influenza. Each year an influenza vaccine is made available in the autumn to cover the most common flu strains expected to be circulating for that season.
Read more about influenza vaccination