Influenza, also known as “flu”, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. It spreads from person to person through coughs and sneezes. You can recover from the flu within one to two weeks. However, some people take longer to recover from flu depending on their age or medical condition.
Flu viruses regularly change their surface proteins through random mutations, which leads to new strains, or types of flu, appearing every year. If you have had flu before, your body should be able to fight off similar strains to the virus you recovered from, but you will be susceptible to new strains of flu. The flu virus spreads from person to person through droplets from the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. If you can, get vaccinated against flu once a year, ideally at the beginning of flu season. Check the NHS website to see if you can get a free flu vaccination.
Flu is not usually dangerous, and tends to go away within a week or two if you are young and healthy. However, certain groups of people are more vulnerable to developing complications due to flu, including pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections or heart problems. For this reason, people at higher risk of catching the flu can get a free flu vaccine once a year.
Antivirals, such as Tamiflu, are medicines which are used to treat or prevent flu. They work by stopping the spread of the flu virus in your body. This gives you relief from symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, cough, muscle or joint aches, headache, fever and chills. Antivirals can help speed up your recovery time from the flu.
People who are most at risk of flu, and of developing complications of flu, can get a free flu vaccine each year. These eligible groups of people change every year. Generally, they include people who have long term health problems, are within a certain age range or are pregnant. Please check the NHS website for the most up to date information.
Flu can affect your whole body, with symptoms including:
Children may also experience pain in their ear and not be as active.
The flu virus and the cold virus are different. The symptoms you have from catching the flu virus are much worse than catching the cold virus. You are more likely to recover from a cold with no problems compared to the flu. And for some people, the flu can lead to serious health complications. This is why there is a new flu vaccine available every year to try and protect everyone from catching or spreading flu.
Symptoms of flu tend to be more severe than those of a common cold, and come on suddenly rather than gradually. You are more likely to have a high fever, and have to stay in bed, with the flu compared to having a cold.
Flu can be treated at home by getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of water and taking medicines to lower your temperature. A pharmacist will be able to advise you on over the counter flu remedies. Antiviral medicines, such as Tamiflu, help treat and speed up recovery time from flu. Tamiflu is available on prescription from Dr Felix. If there is a local flu outbreak, you can take Tamiflu to prevent flu.
You can buy flu remedies over the counter from any pharmacy. For relief of nasal or sinus congestion, there are decongestants available in the form of oral or nasal sprays to help to reduce swelling and irritation in the nasal passage. Similarly, antihistamines can help with nasal irritation, a runny nose and sneezing. There are different cough medicines available and a pharmacist can help you pick the best one for your symptoms. Medicines which lower your temperature include paracetamol and ibuprofen.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises antivirals as effective for the treatment and prevention of influenza. Antivirals need to be prescribed by a doctor and are most effective when taken within the first 48 hours of noticing symptoms. They can help speed up recovery time.
Everyone should get their flu vaccine before flu season (December to March) starts. The flu vaccine is normally available from September and takes two weeks to provide a good level of protection against the flu virus. Antivirals can be taken to treat symptoms of flu, or to prevent flu if you have recently come into contact with someone who has the flu virus. Antivirals are not a substitute for the flu vaccine and do not change the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
Tamiflu is an antiviral that contains oseltamivir. It works by stopping the spread of the flu virus in your body, alleviating symptoms and speeding up recovery time by 1 to 2 days. It works best if you take it within 48 hours of noticing flu-like symptoms and usually starts working within 2 days. You can take Tamiflu to prevent the flu too.
Tamiflu is the most commonly used antiviral in the treatment and prevention of most types of influenza. Other infections may be mistakenly referred to as flu, but are actually just a cold or sinus infection.
You cannot use aciclovir to treat or prevent flu. Aciclovir is an antiviral that is commonly used to treat herpes, shingles and chickenpox.
Flu viruses evolve quickly, with new strains popping up every year. Last year’s flu vaccine will not protect you from the newest versions of the flu virus. New flu vaccines are developed each year to keep up with the latest strains of flu. The flu vaccine helps your immune system to produce the antibodies you need to fight the flu virus.
Viruses hide inside and use your body’s cells to multiply, so they can be difficult to target and destroy. Antivirals do not kill viruses, but stop them from spreading through the body, sometimes by disabling the virus. This speeds up recovery time by making it easier for your immune system to target the virus.
Antivirals are not antibiotics. Antivirals are used to treat viral infections, while antibiotics treat bacterial infections.
Antivirals are considered to be a safe and effective treatment for flu and other viral infections. If you are pregnant, speak to your doctor for advice on the safety of antivirals before taking them.
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