What to look out for
Most people who think they have the flu usually just have a cold. The real flu is not that common and tends to happen during the winter. It usually spreads in a wave across the country and may begin any time from November to March. Doctors get an alert from the HSE when flu is circulating. You may hear from the media that flu is around.
It is useful to know the differences between the flu and the common cold.
Flu symptoms come on very quickly and you get severe muscle aches and a high fever.
Headache is very common. You will feel extremely weak and may find it hard to even get out of bed. After a few days you may develop a cough. For most people flu is just a nasty experience but for others it can lead to more serious illness.
The most common complication is pneumonia. The flu can also worsen existing conditions such as asthma, COPD and heart failure. If you are pregnant, you have an increased risk of complications from the flu.
People with flu are usually infectious a day before symptoms start and remain infectious for five or six days. Try to avoid all unnecessary contact with others during this time to avoid spreading the illness to them.
Coughing and sneezing spreads the germs that caused your flu in the first place. You can avoid spreading the flu germs by coughing and sneezing into a tissue, binning the tissue immediately and washing your hands afterwards.
What can you do
If you are generally fit and healthy, you can manage your symptoms at home and you will usually get better without treatment.
Ask your pharmacist for advice and over-the-counter medicines that will help. Someone might have to go to the pharmacy for you if you have the flu as you will find it hard to get out and about. The best treatment is to stay indoors, rest, keep warm and drink plenty of liquids. Paracetamol or ibuprofen will relieve headache, muscle pains and fever.
You can start your normal activities again when you feel well enough.
When to seek help
Usually, you do not need to see the doctor. However, if you are in an at-risk group and have flu-like symptoms, or if your flu symptoms are getting worse, see your doctor as you are more likely to get complications from the flu. You may need special anti-viral medicines. These work best if started within 48 hours of flu symptoms.
You are at risk if you are aged 65 and over or have a chronic medical condition such as a heart or lung condition, or diabetes. You are also at risk if you have a condition or are being treated for a condition that affects your immune system. Pregnant women are also at risk of complications from the flu.
If you are in an at-risk group, you should get the flu vaccine every year to protect yourself. This is available from your doctor. If you are pregnant, you should get the flu vaccine during each pregnancy.
Remember, flu is a virus and antibiotics cannot treat viruses. Antibiotics are only needed if you develop a complication like bacterial pneumonia.
Learn more about flu by clicking here.
As you can probably guess, this website can’t replace the advice you might get from a health professional. If you are worried, please call or visit your GP or pharmacist.