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Seasonal flu – how to keep safe this flu season

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
09 September 2021
Next review due September 2024

Flu (influenza) is something many of us are familiar with. It’s a common respiratory virus that mostly affects people during the winter months. With flu tending to be forefront of our minds at this time of the year, it’s worth getting up to speed on all you need to know about it.

father and son walking hand in hand

What is flu?

Flu is a respiratory virus – that means it affects your nose, throat and lungs. It spreads easily via droplets in coughs and sneezes. Common symptoms of flu include a fever, chills, headache, aching muscles and joints, and extreme tiredness. You may also have a dry cough, sore throat and stuffy nose.

Most people get better within a week. But for some, it can cause much more severe complications.

What’s the difference between flu and COVID-19?

Flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory viruses and have many of the same symptoms. There are some differences between them though. It can take longer for symptoms to develop with COVID-19 for example, and you may be contagious for longer. Although most people have a mild illness with COVID-19, you’re more likely to have serious complications than you are with flu.

What should I do if I feel ill?

With any respiratory virus, you’ll usually be able to manage your symptoms by yourself at home. Get lots of rest, make sure you’re drinking enough fluids, and take paracetamol or ibuprofen to manage your symptoms.

Always seek medical help if your symptoms get worse, or if you’re not improving after a week.

What can I do to protect myself from flu?

The flu vaccine is the best way to avoid getting the flu. Apart from reducing the risk of you catching flu, there are other reasons why it’s worth having the flu vaccine. The following groups of people are eligible for a free flu vaccine.

  • Children aged two to 15 years.
  • People aged 50 years or over.
  • Anyone in a clinical risk group. This includes people with severe asthma, COPD, heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes, and those with a weakened immune system.
  • People who are pregnant.
  • Care home residents.
  • Carers.
  • Close contacts of people who have a weakened immune system.
  • Frontline health and social care staff. 

Various hygiene measures can help to reduce your risk of picking up, or passing on, any respiratory virus. They include the following.

  • Washing your hands or using hand sanitiser often. This is particularly important if you’ve come into contact with surfaces touched by many others (such as door handles or light switches).
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible, and washing your hands before doing so.
  • Opening doors and windows if you’re in an enclosed space with other people.
  • Wearing a face covering – although this is not a legal requirement, it’s still recommended to do so in crowded and enclosed areas.
  • Covering your mouth with a disposable tissue when you cough or sneeze, and washing your hands afterwards. Or, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
  • Staying away from others when you feel unwell.

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available to you and your loved ones when you need it.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

    • The flu vaccination: who should have it and why. Public Health England. www.gov.uk, updated 26 August 2021
    • Influenza: the green book, chapter 19. Public Health England. gov.uk, last updated October 2020
    • COVID-19: the green book, chapter 14a. Public Health England. www.gov.uk, updated 30 July 2021
    • Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated 5 August 2021
    • Similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, last reviewed 7 June 2021
    • National flu immunisation programme 2021 to 2022 letter. Department of Health & Social Care, NHS England, Public Health England. www.gov.uk, updated 28 July 2021
    • Weekly national flu and COVID-19 surveillance reports. Public Health England. www.gov.uk, latest update 26 August 2021
    • Influenza - seasonal. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised August 2020
    • Coronavirus - COVID 19. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, last revised July 2021
    • Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread. Cabinet Office. www.gov.uk. Last updated 20 August 2021
    • What are the new top 5 COVID symptoms? Zoe COVID study. covid.joinzoe.com, published 23 June 2021
    • COVID-19 vaccination programme. Information for healthcare practitioners. Public Health England. gov.uk, republished 6 August 2021
    • Commission on Human Medicines advice on ibuprofen and coronavirus (COVID-19). Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Commission on Human Medicines. www.gov.uk, published 14 April 2020

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