The most common symptoms of flu include:
- high temperature (38°C to 40°C)
- sore throat
- body aches
- losing your appetite
- dry cough
Some people may also have a runny nose and burning or painful eyes, or sensitivity to light. If you have flu, the symptoms tend to appear quite suddenly, within two to three days of becoming infected. This is unlike a cold, where symptoms appear slowly, over a longer period of time, and don’t usually include fever or body aches.
If you catch flu, it’s important that you get plenty of rest and make sure you’re drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help reduce your fever and pain. Ideally, you should stay off work or school for at least a week to give yourself time to recover and to prevent spreading the infection to others. Most people start feeling better by this time, but it may take more than two weeks for all your symptoms to go away completely.
You should contact your GP if your symptoms don’t improve after a week, or if they get worse. You should also contact your GP if you start getting new symptoms, particularly chest pain or breathlessness. Symptoms like these can mean that you may be developing a more severe condition, such as an ear infection or pneumonia. Certain groups of people are at greater risk of developing flu complications. These include pregnant women, people over the age of 65, and those who have a long-term illness such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease. If you’re at high risk of complications, getting the flu vaccine every year can greatly reduce your chances of catching flu.
Flu spreads easily via droplets in coughs and sneezes. Your hands can also become contaminated with the virus, and you may then spread it via the surfaces you touch. You can help to prevent spreading it by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and washing your hands regularly with soap and water. Best of all, stay at home if you can.
If you need advice from a doctor, contact your GP surgery by phone first. You risk spreading the virus to others, who may be more vulnerable, if you visit your GP surgery.
- Influenza. The MSD Manuals. www.msdmanuals.com, reviewed April 2014
- Influenza. PatientPlus. www.patient.info/patientplus, reviewed 19 November 2015
- Influenza seasonal. Influenza – seasonal – summary. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, reviewed October 2015
- Common cold. The MSD Manuals. www.msdmanuals.com, reviewed April 2014
- Influenza (seasonal). World Health Organization. www.who.int, published March 2014.
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Produced by Pippa Coulter, Bupa Health Content team, February 2016
Peer reviewed by Professor Robert Read, Professor of Infectious diseases
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