The flu is often confused with the common cold because of the similarity in symptoms, but flu symptoms are more severe than the typical sneezing and stuffiness of a cold. The flu is an infection that is caused by the influenza virus. The virus infects the nose, throat or lungs. Influenza is passed from one person to another through the air or can spread by hand. A cold is a contagious viral disease that infects the airways. It is a mild condition that is caused by a less aggressive virus.
In an average year, one in ten people get the flu and adults typically have two to five common cold infections. A flu epidemic is when the disease spreads rapidly through a population, it causes many people to be infected at the same time. Unlike symptoms of a common cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. The flu usually starts with the abrupt onset of fever, cold tremors and body aches. These symptoms typically last three to five days.
High risk groups for the flu
Small children: infants, toddlers and preschoolers are particularly susceptible to viral infections. This is because children are not born with a fully developed immune system. Rather, their immunity grows and strengthens with time. This puts them at a greater risk for the flu. Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids and keep a close eye on him or her. Small children have an increased risk of dehydration and pneumonia.
Elderly people: are susceptible to flu-related complications such as pneumonia which, in some cases, can be fatal. If you are older than 65 years it is advisable to get a flu shot each year. This flu vaccine protects against the most common influenza viruses.
Pregnant women: in most cases a common case of the flu is not harmful to mother or child. But although the flu does not affect your unborn child directly, high fever can cause premature labour. If your temperature rises to 38.5 degrees or more, contact your GP or midwife.
People who have a medical condition: people who suffer from diabetes, lung disease, heart or vascular disease or another serious condition have a greater risk of developing serious complications such as meningitis, pneumonia or dehydration. Getting a flu vaccine reduces this risk.
The flu can be treated with medication such as Nasonex, Otrivin and Trachitol to reduce flu symptoms. There are also other products that you can use to ease flu and cold symptoms. Browse our selection below for more information.