Tips to prevent catching and spreading the flu virus.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Flu season is very much upon us, and has even seen a school in Southampton close due to an outbreak.

Hospitals are struggling for beds and informing primary care to avoid admission unless it is essential.

Last year fewer than half of adults who were eligible received the flu vaccination, and even lower uptake was reported for children.

If you are healthy, flu can be a nasty virus that you recover from after a week or two. But that is a week or two of being ill, suffering sickness symptoms, not able to work (or if you have dragged yourself in to spread the virus, not able to work as productively as if you were healthy), not able to function well at home. It all adds up, you lose pay, or you work and come home too unwell to prepare decent meals, meaning more money spent on “easy” foods. Before you know it, you realise you have been paying money to feel horrible.

That’s just you though. Those who can’t have the vaccination, those who have lowered immune systems, the elderly… for those people it isn’t a mild, slightly pricey inconvenience. For those people it is a serious illness, with added complications of contracting bronchitis and pneumonia, and potentially causing death.

What is the difference between flu and a common cold?

Common cold

A cold is a mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways. The main symptoms are a blocked up or runny nose, sneezing a sore throat and a cough. The symptoms are usually at their worst during the first two to three days, before they gradually start to improve.

It’s very common and usually clears up on its own within a week or two, it can last longer, and a cough can last two or three weeks.

Colds are generally mild and short-lived, so there’s usually no need to see your GP if you think you have one. You should just rest at home and use painkillers and other remedies available from the pharmacist to relieve your symptoms until you’re feeling better.


Flu is a viral infection which should get better over around 7 days. It’s very infectious and easily spread to other people. You’re more likely to give it to others in the first 5 days through spreading germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

Flu is normally a rapid onset including a high fever and generally feeling more unwell than a common cold. Flu symptoms affect more than just your throat and nose and they make you feel totally exhausted. Flu affects your activities of daily living.

You should see a medical practitioner if you do not improve in 7 days or if your sickness symptoms worsen. Additionally, see a doctor/nurse if you’re over 65 years, pregnant, have a weak immune system, have a long-term medical problem like COPD, asthma, diabetes or if you have chest pain or high fever. As Flu is viral rather than bacterial, there is no need to use antibiotics.

A great example of the difference between a cold and flu is — if you find a £20 note on the floor, with flu, you just leave it there.

What can you do to protect yourself, and others?

Have you had your flu jab?

The NHS offers the flu jab for free to those who:

  • are65 years of age or over
  • are pregnant
  • have certain medical conditions
  • are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility
  • receive a carer’s allowance, or you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
  • are children over the age of 6 months with a long-term health condition
  • are children aged 2 and 3 on August 31, 2018 — that is, born between September 1, 2014 and August 31, 2016
  • are children in reception class and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5

Front-line health and social care workers are also eligible to receive the flu vaccine. It is your employer’s responsibility to arrange and pay for this vaccine.

Why do people refuse the flu vaccine?

DocHQ asked people why they refused a flu vaccination, the most common reasons found for refusing were:

“I felt very ill afterwards. I never get the flu without it, so why have the week of feeling terrible?”

You cannot get the flu from the injected vaccine. The injected flu vaccine does not give you the live virus, but rather part of the dead virus — the part that you need to make an immune response to. The nasal spray is a live vaccine, but the virus is greatly weakened, again ensuring that you cannot catch the virus from the immunisation.

Many times, the illness after the flu vaccine is just a normal illness that would have occurred anyway, but when you are ill, you tend to want to know why and your brain connects to the most likely closest option — in this case, the flu jab.

“It only protects against the types they have predicted, so there’s no guarantee anyway.”

Scientists work each year to try to predict the most likely strain of flu viruses that will be most prevalent in the coming winter. The vaccination is then created to defend against those types. It is not possible to vaccinate from all strains but getting the most likely still gives much more of a fighting chance for you to get through unscathed.

Statistics show that this flu season the H1N1 strain is prevalent, which is covered in this year’s vaccine.

Only 68.7% of front-line NHS workers took up the flu vaccine last year. Leaving over 30% of the workers who are in positions where they will be in contact with the most vulnerable people, potentially infecting them.

Flu admissions accounted for about a third of the increase in emergency admissions last winter, putting a massive, and in many cases preventable, strain on the NHS.

Some countries, such as Australia, are considering making the vaccination compulsory for care workers.

How to avoid spreading the flu

Up to half of people carry the virus, without displaying any sickness symptoms. The people who never get flu could well be unknowingly contagious, passing it on to the less fortunate. Following these guidelines regardless of if you have sickness symptoms is essential.

Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. You’re more likely to give it to others in the first 5 days.

Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

To reduce the risk of spreading flu:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible

For advice on workplace hygiene, check here.

Sources: 2345

Other information that you may be interested in: Back pain, Liver health, Hay fever tips, Lyme Disease, and Stress.

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