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Seasonal flu

Flu (or influenza) is caused by a common virus that can affect your nose, throat and lungs. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘seasonal flu’ because it tends to occur at around the same time every year. In the UK, people usually get flu between December and March though outbreaks can occur as early as October and as late as May.

There are three different types of influenza virus that can cause flu: A, B and C. Most people get flu from the A and B viruses.

Woman blowing her nose


  • What are the symptoms of flu? What are the symptoms of flu?

    The most common symptoms of flu include:

    • high temperature (38°C to 40°C)
    • sore throat
    • headache
    • weakness
    • 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.

  • How can I manage the symptoms? How can I manage the symptoms?

    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.

  • When should I seek help from a doctor? When should I seek help from a doctor?

    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.

  • How can I help stop the spread of flu? How can I help stop the spread of 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.

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites


    • Influenza. The MSD Manuals., reviewed April 2014
    • Influenza. PatientPlus., reviewed 19 November 2015
    • Influenza seasonal. Influenza – seasonal – summary. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., reviewed October 2015
    • Common cold. The MSD Manuals., reviewed April 2014
    • Influenza (seasonal). World Health Organization., published March 2014.
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  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Produced by Pippa Coulter, Bupa Health Content team, February 2016
    Peer reviewed by Professor Robert Read, Professor of Infectious diseases

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This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

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