Influenza - or flu - is caused by flu viruses. Flu has similar symptoms to a cold, when you have a runny nose, sore throat or a "bunged up" feeling, but flu tends to be more severe. Seasonal flu follows a pattern, and tends to occur at around the same time every year. Your body will usually fight off the infection on its own, without medical treatment. Swine flu is just another strain of seasonal flu and should be treated in the same way. This years seasonal influenza vaccination did contain protection against swine flu.
Symptoms of flu
The flu viruses grow in the soft, warm surfaces of your nose, throat, sinuses and airways, so this is where you usually get the symptoms. Typically, you will:
have a fever - your normal temperature should be 37°C
Symptoms usually last for about a week but coughs and tiredness may last for a few weeks. You may also lose your appetite, feel or be sick, or have diarrhoea.
Diagnosis of flu Although flu can be nasty, your body will usually fight off the infection on its own, without medical treatment, so you don't have to see your GP. If your symptoms get much worse or last longer than a week, you should contact your GP. If you have a medical condition which makes flu worse you should contact your GP. Anybody in an “at risk group” will have been offered the seasonal flu vaccine which contains protection against Swine flu. You are at risk if you have:-
cough with yellowy green or rust-coloured sputum (phlegm)
extreme lethargy or drowsiness
If your condition is not improving after five days.
There is no cure for flu. However, there are things you can do to help yourself feel better.
Drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration - but don't drink excessive amounts.
Steam inhalations with menthol, eucalyptus or camomile may be helpful. Take care with the hot water.
Vapour rubs can be soothing. Don't put this around your child's nose as it can block the airway.
Tissues with menthol or moisturisers may help clear noses or prevent sore skin around the nose.
Sucking sweets or lozenges with menthol or eucalyptus may help a sore throat.
Gargling with salt water may also help a sore throat.
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Stay indoors and rest.
For adults, use the painkiller that you would normally take for a headache to help relieve the fever and pain. Be aware of the doses you are taking of different medicines. It's easy to accidentally exceed the daily dose by using more than one product (eg tablets, capsules, a hot lemon/blackcurrant drink) containing the same active ingredient, such as paracetamol. You can take both Paracetamol and Ibuprofen if needed. (Paracetamol two tablets four times a day and Ibuprofen 400mg one tablet three times a day). Children can take liquid painkillers; your pharmacist will be able to discuss which products are available.
Ask your pharmacist for advice on products that contain a decongestant which can help to clear your blocked nose by reducing swelling. Nasal saline drops or nasal decongestants such as ephedrine sprays or drops may help with a bunged up nose. Nasal decongestants are not generally advised for children under 12.
There are lozenges, mouth washes or sprays such as benzydamine hydrochloride (eg Difflam) which can be used to numb pain. They can be purchased from a pharmacist.
Antihistamines may help to reduce some symptoms such as a runny nose and sneezing but can make you feel more tired and cause headaches.
Antibiotics are not prescribed but can treat secondary infections caused by bacteria, such as a chest infection or infections of the ear, nose or throat. GPs don't usually prescribe antibiotics for seasonal flu. Your GP will tell you if you need to take them.