Causes of flu 

The flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes.

These droplets typically spread about one metre. They hang suspended in the air for a while before landing on surfaces, where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours.

Anyone who breathes in the droplets can catch flu. You can also catch the virus by touching the surfaces that the droplets have landed on if you pick up the virus on your hands and then touch your nose or mouth.

Everyday items at home and in public places can easily become contaminated with traces of flu virus, including food, door handles, the remote control, handrails, telephone handsets and computer keyboards.

It's therefore important to wash your hands frequently to prevent catching and spreading flu.

Read more about how to prevent the spread of flu.

New types of flu

If you become infected with a flu virus, your body will produce antibodies against it. Antibodies are proteins that recognise and fight off germs that have invaded your body. 

Your antibodies will remember this flu virus and fight it if it invades your body again.

But over time the flu virus can change into a different version or strain, which means your body may not recognise it and you can catch flu again.

When the virus changes to a new strain that people have little or no resistance to, it can cause a flu pandemic, which means it can spread globally. This is what happened in the swine flu pandemic of 2009.

Don't pass it on

Catch it

Germs spread easily. Always carry tissues and use them to catch your cough or sneeze.

Bin it

Germs can live for several hours on tissues. Dispose of your tissue as soon as possible.

Kill it

Hands can transfer germs to every surface you touch. Clean your hands as soon as you can.

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015