Seasonal influenza (flu)
What's the difference between a ‘common cold’ and the
The symptoms of the common cold can include a runny nose, sore
throat and headache. The symptoms usually improve within a few days
The flu is a more debilitating infection. As well as
experiencing the same symptoms as a cold, you may also experience
muscle aches and pain, a fever, a headache and a cough. Some people
develop complications to the flu such as a bacterial lung infection
What is swine flu?
Swine flu is the H1N1 virus - a strain of flu that is carried by
pigs. It doesn't normally affect humans, but this particular strain
has mutated and infected humans. It can now be passed from human to
human. There is no evidence that pigs in the UK carry the
infection. In the autumn/winter of 2010 the standard flu vaccine
included the swine flu vaccine.
How can I avoid the flu?
People with heart disease are eligible for the flu vaccine each
year. People over the age of 65 years, or those with diabetes,
chronic liver or chronic kidney disease and pregnant women are also
eligible. Whilst these groups of people are not more likely to
catch the flu than others, they are more likely to become very ill
with it. Your GP or practice nurse can tell you more about the
vaccine and how to get it. It's also a good idea to avoid close
contact with friends or relatives who have already got the
What should I do if I think I have the flu?
You should contact your GP surgery by telephone and they will
advise you on the most appropriate course of action for you. It is
important that you speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking
over the counter medicines such as pain killers and cough
medicines. This is because some of the medications to relieve the
symptoms of the flu cannot be taken with those prescribed for some
How long does the flu last?
Most people in the UK have recovered within a week of getting
the infection. However, as with any illness, it will depend on your
general health and how soon you get treatment. You should speak to
your GP practice as soon as you feel unwell or if you think you
have been exposed to the infection.
I have a heart condition, what will happen if I get flu?
If you have chronic heart disease then you have a greater risk
of becoming more seriously ill from the flu than the general
There is also evidence that heart
attacks happen more often during or immediately after an acute
inflammatory illness, such as flu.
So if you have a chronic heart condition, including heart failure or
congenital heart disease, you are recommended to get the flu
vaccination. If you think you have the flu you should contact your
GP as soon as possible for advice.
If you take
warfarin, it's important to know that if you are unwell, such
as having a cold or flu like symptoms, it can affect your blood
clotting rate (INR). So if you are feeling unwell, speak to your
doctor or anticoagulation nurse about monitoring your INR.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
Yes, for most people the flu vaccine is considered safe and
would not have been licensed if it was considered unsafe in any
way. Your GP or Practice Nurse will talk to you about potential
side effects and any increased risk from these side effects that
you may have.
Will the flu vaccine stop me getting the flu?
The vaccine should give you around 70-80% protection against the
flu so people in the high risk groups outlined above are strongly
encouraged to have it.
Choices has more information on this year's
flu jab (2012/13).
The Health Protection Agency has more
information on swine flu.