Our Flu FAQ
What are the symptoms of flu and how long do they last?
The symptoms of flu include fever (a high body temperature of 38°C/100.4°F or over), fatigue, lack of appetite and coughing. Some people with flu also report a runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Is the flu virus contagious?
Flu germs are spread in the same way as cold germs; the droplets that come out of the nose or mouth when someone coughs or sneezes can spread about one metre (or three feet).
People close to that person may then breathe in these droplets and catch the virus. Similarly if someone coughs or sneezes into their hand or onto something else without cleaning it or disposing of it properly, those droplets and the virus within them are easily transferred to surfaces that the person touches, such as door handles, hand rails, telephones and keyboards. If you touch these surfaces and touch your face, the virus can enter your body.
There are vaccines available for some types of flu, your GP will advise if this is appropriate for you.
See our ‘stop the spread section’ for more information on minimising the spread of flu.
Who are the people most vulnerable from flu?
Those who carry a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with flu include;
- People with chronic lung disease, including people who have had drug treatment for their asthma within the past three years.
- People with chronic heart disease, chronic kidney disease or chronic liver disease.
- People with chronic neurological disease (neurological disorders include motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis).
- People with suppressed immune systems (whether caused by disease or treatment).
- People with diabetes.
- Pregnant women.
- Anyone aged 65 years and older.
- Young children under five years old.
How long does the flu virus live on surfaces and what is the incubation period?
The flu virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours and a soft surface for approximately 20 minutes. According to the Health Protection Agency, the incubation period for flu (the period between infection and appearance of symptoms) can be up to one week, but is most likely to be between two and five days.
When is the flu virus most infectious?
The most infectious time for flu sufferers is when the symptoms first start to show. People can continue to spread the flu virus (for example, through coughs and sneezes) for up to five days (seven days in children). As flu symptoms subside people are less likely to pass the flu virus on, until all symptoms clear up, when the virus is no longer infectious.
Should I avoid contact with people who have flu?
Anyone who has suspected flu should avoid contact with others and ‘self-isolate’ if possible, helping avoid passing it on to those who don’t have it.
There is no need to keep away from people who might have been in contact with someone who has flu (such as the parents of children at schools with a confirmed case of flu), assuming that person is not ill, or showing symptoms themselves.
Is it possible to catch flu twice?
Yes, because there are a number of influenza viruses and they can change. If you become infected with a flu virus, your body produces antibodies against it, which will recognise and fight off that particular virus if the body ever encounters it again. However, as viruses mutate and change, your immune system may not recognise a different type of flu and so you could catch it again.
How can I relieve my flu symptoms?
If you experience the common symptoms of flu, you can help treat the symptoms quickly and easily with an over the counter remedy that can be bought from a pharmacy or supermarket. These include Lemsip Max All in One Lemon for the general symptoms of flu, Nurofen Express Tablets for fever and headaches in adults (ibuprofen lysine), or Strepsils Extra Blackcurrant Lozenges (hexylresorcinol) to relieve sore throats. For little ones there is Nurofen for Children Singles (ibuprofen) for fast and effective relief from a fever. Under ones should always be seen by a GP. Please seek advice if a child any age is not getting better after 4-5 days. Always read the label.
What do antivirals do?
Antivirals are not a cure, but they help you to recover by:
- Relieving some of the symptoms.
- Reducing the length of time you are ill
- Reducing the potential for serious complications, such as pneumonia.
Over the counter remedies, such as Lemsip Max All in One Lemon, Nurofen Express Tablets (ibuprofen lysine) and Strepsils Extra Blackcurrant Lozenges (hexylresorcinol), can be taken alongside antivirals. Always read the label.
What are antivirals?
Flu can be treated with antiviral medicines. The drugs must be administered at an early stage to be effective. The UK has a stockpile of antivirals – currently enough to treat half the UK population. Orders of antiviral medicines have been placed to increase supplies to 50 million doses, which would be enough to treat 80% of the population should this be required.