The flu or influenza is a viral infection of the upper airways. It is so named from the orthomyxoviruses that cause it – influenza types A and B. Influenza is a highly adaptable and changing virus, which often causes large outbreaks each year, typically in the winter time.
Like any viral illness, influenza is a self-limiting infection, though it is more severe than most common viral infections. It can cause significant problems in those with respiratory problems or cardiovascular disease; including bronchitis, pneumonia and worsening heart failure. Rarely it can cause encephalitis, meningitis or polyneuritis.
We must not forget that flu causes up to 4000 deaths each year in the UK.
What are the symptoms of flu?
To be diagnosed with the flu you should have a raised temperature of >38.0ºC and two of:
- Muscle and joint aches
- Blocked/runny nose
- Sore throat
- Watery diarrhoea
- Cannot stop crying (children)
How is the flu treated?
Management of the flu is mainly supportive and involves rest, paracetamol and fluids. Generally speaking, people do not need to see the doctor unless they are in the high risk group. Unnecessarily attending the surgery could risk infecting other patients, many of whom might be particularly vulnerable to influenza. If you are concerned, unwell or unsure, please ring the surgery for further advice or to make an appointment.
What about anti-virals?
Two anti-viral medications exist, called oseltamivir and zanamivir. These are generally only given to people in the high risk group, since they are of limited benefit to those outside of this group. To be effective, zanamivir must be given within 36hrs and oseltamivir within 48hrs of symptoms starting.
These medications may be given to people outside of this group (both children and adults) if the Public Health and the Health Protection Agency deem that an influenza pandemic has occurred. The same time criteria apply. (If this happens, the website will be updated accordingly.)
By far and away the best protection again developing the flu is to get vaccinated best during the October/early November period. Please click here for details of our vaccination program.
You should avoid the flu vaccine only if you are allergic to egg or if you are acutely unwell (e.g. with a bacterial infection).
High Risk Groups
People who fall into the following groups should be vaccinated:
- Over 65 years
- Chronic Respiratory disease
- Chronic Renal disease
- Chronic Heart disease
- Chronic Liver Disease
- The Immuncompromised
- Patients living in residential homes and nursing homes or other long-stay facilities
- People who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill
- Health and social care staff
People with the above symptoms should consider consulting the doctor if they have flu symptoms, especially if their condition is worsening.
- GP Notebook 2008
- BMJ (October 2006). Clinical Evidence – Influenza
- Flu Treatment: NICE TA58, 2003
- Flu Prophylaxis: NICE TA158, 2008