Seasonal flu

Listen to information about seasonal flu and find out who is more likely to be affected by it. Also find out more about free seasonal flu vaccination

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Flu vaccine for children

In the autumn/winter of 2014/2015 the annual nasal spray flu vaccine will be available for all children aged two, three and four years old as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.

In some parts of the country all primary school-aged children and secondary school-aged children in years 7 and 8 will also be offered the vaccine as part of a pilot programme.

Over time, as the programme rolls out, potentially all children between the ages of two and 16 will be offered vaccination against flu each year with the nasal spray.

Read more information about:

Winter health

Tips and advice on how to stay healthy and well through the cold, dark days of winter

Flu is an infectious and common viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes.

It's not the same as the common cold. Flu is caused by a different group of viruses. Symptoms tend to be more severe and last longer.

You can catch flu – short for influenza – all year round, but it is especially common in winter, which is why it is also known as "seasonal flu".

Flu causes a sudden high temperature, headache and general aches and pains, tiredness and a sore throat. You can also lose your appetite, feel nauseous and have a cough.

Flu symptoms can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.

Read more about the symptoms of flu.

When to see a doctor

If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms. 

The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a high temperature and relieve aches.

You should see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms and you:

  • are aged 65 or over
  • are pregnant
  • have a long-term medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease
  • have a weakened immune system

This is because flu can be more serious for you, and your doctor may want to prescribe antiviral medication.

Antiviral medicine can lessen the symptoms of flu and shorten its duration, but treatment needs to begin soon after flu symptoms start for it to be effective.

Antibiotics are of no use in the treatment of flu because it is caused by a virus and not by bacteria.

Read more about how to treat flu and who should see a doctor.

How long does flu last?

If you have flu, you generally start to feel ill within a few days of being infected.

Symptoms peak after two to three days and you should begin to feel much better after a week or so, although you may feel tired for much longer.

You are usually infectious – that is, able to pass flu on to others – a day before your symptoms start and for a further five or six days. Children and people with weaker immune systems, such as cancer patients, may remain infectious for longer.

Elderly people and anyone with certain long-term medical conditions are more likely to have a bad case of flu, and are also more likely to develop a serious complication such as a chest infection.

In the UK, about 600 people a year die from a complication of seasonal flu. This rises to around 13,000 during an epidemic.

Read more about the complications of flu.

Preventing the spread of flu

The flu virus is spread in small droplets of fluid coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person. These droplets can travel a metre or so and infect anyone within range who breathes them in.

Flu can also spread if someone with the virus transfers it on their fingers. For example, if you have flu and you touch your nose or eyes and then touch someone else, you may pass the virus on to them.

Similarly, if you have flu and touch hard surfaces such as door handles with unwashed hands, other people who touch the surface after you can pick up the infection.

Read more about the causes of flu.

You can stop yourself catching flu or spreading it to others by being careful with your hygiene. 

Always wash your hands regularly with soap and water, as well as:

  • regularly cleaning surfaces such as your computer keyboard, telephone and door handles to get rid of germs
  • using tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • putting used tissues in a bin as soon as possible

Learn more about stopping the spread of flu by watching this video about the government's Catch it, Bin it, Kill it campaign.

You can also help stop the spread of flu by avoiding all unnecessary contact with other people while you're infectious. You should stay off work until you are no longer infectious and you're feeling better.

Read more about how to stop the spread of flu.

The flu vaccine

A flu vaccine is available free on the NHS for:

  • anyone over the age of 65 
  • pregnant women
  • children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
  • children and adults with weakened immune systems

It is given as an annual injection to:

  • adults over the age of 18 at risk of flu (including everyone over 65)
  • children aged six months to two years at risk of flu

The flu vaccine is also given as an annual nasal spray to:

  • children aged two to 18 years at risk of flu
  • healthy children aged two, three and four years old

Despite popular belief, the flu vaccine cannot give you flu as it doesn't contain the active virus needed to do this.

The flu vaccine is available from October each year. If you think you need it, talk to your GP or practice nurse.

For more information on who should have the flu vaccine and how to get it, read the sections on the flu jab for adults, the flu jab for pregnant women and the children's flu vaccine.

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015


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The 12 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

XORH said on 09 August 2014

Hi all,
I'm in Riyadh ...............
A few days ago I felt flu is starting so I took a panadol then slept. In the middle of the night I woke up under the blanket seriously FROZEN. I mean it, my arms were sticking on my chest and my legs too. While my forehead and my neck were so hot. The bottom of my spine was squeezing me. What kind of flu is that?
More questions :
1- What fruit vegetables are best to ( at least) avoid flu?
2-Is honey, ginger/others can make a shield in front of any new flu?

Note : We are in the middle of summer and the AC was on.

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Steven1983 said on 06 March 2014

I believe that I have flu now. I am 30 years old and I did not expect to get it. I've had it a week and its making me feel very ill indeed. Sore joints, high temperatures and a feeling of malaise. This could easily kill someone who is frail. Don't believe the scare stories about flu vaccines. Get yourself the injection and don't risk getting ill.

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quadeq said on 07 February 2014

Both my husband and father have been receiving the flu jab for several and neither one has had the remotest sign of the virus. They both use handkerchiefs and are conscious about hand hygiene. I only catch it from working among people who are not so thoughtful toward others or themselves. It's a 'fussy' concept, maybe, but what price a box of tissues or a squirt of ani-bac gel? Let's just take care of each other. I don't know about you, but I feel useless when my friends or colleagues are ill. You can even advise them to stay home until they feel better, but you know they won't. Viruses, I often think, are our own responsibility, and they will treat us as we treat them; be it with care or contempt. It's a choice, I guess. I hope recovery comes quickly to all.

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fluey said on 28 January 2014

Do the research (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews) flu jabs don't work they depress your immune system for possibly weeks or months, which makes you more susceptible to not only the flu but every other virus or infection around..
Better to boost your immune system naturally

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ellie590 said on 17 December 2013

@ gadget_UK feel sorry for your wife. I have a flu jab every year and I still get flu, really badly. Usually at Christmas!

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amilie said on 27 January 2013

im supposed to have a cataract operation feb 25.thqats not a big deal.but my vision is blurrier and im afraid the surgeon wont do this. i have to stay 1 nite in the hospital.does this flu have an effect on this?

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amilie said on 27 January 2013

i truly appreciate everyones answers to ky dilemma so soon. were all in this together andmy heart breaks when i see so many people suffering like i am. ive never experienced anything like it. my heart goes out to all of you. its reaching a point --i dont care what the name of the flu is,,but this is a flu that will go down in history--the great influenza epidemic of 2013. im not that old, but i remember reading about the great 1 of 1918. this is another winner. somebody should know something. every dr-I don't know ...you had bad flu.i dont need drs to tell me what i know. obviously if it werernt so bad i wouldnt need them. im supposed to have a cataract operation feb 25. who knows if the surgeon will do it if my strength doesnt come back?a cataract is not a big deal, but even the dr was sick and postponed it to feb 25. im so disgusted. in this day and age---doesnt anyone know anything?and they say 65 is my golden years. i was a school teacher and had a wonderful life. those were the golden years.what this is--is quite frightening.

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gadget_uk said on 15 December 2012

My wife has had the flu jab twice at work and both times she has caught full blown flu those winters. She was sick of catching flu and losing time off work just about every winter so got the offer of a flu jab at work and it made no difference to her whatsoever.

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JohnShirley said on 19 October 2012

I have been trying since 24.9.12 to get some information on the efficacy and safety of this vaccine, especially clinical evidence and reassurance about links with senile dementia because of the adjuvants: so far I have drawn a complete blank, from the Head of NHS Suffolk, my GP(thinks there is "possible evidence, but no more news after weeks), Boots the Chemists. My requests for help from over a dozen media outlets, radio, local and national press, Age UK, Watchdog, Trading Standards my MP and other people and agencies, haven't even received an acknowledgement. There seems to be complete censorship. A Lancet article (Oct 2011) suggests an effectiveness of 1.5% for adults, 12 % for children.

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SJDF said on 10 May 2012

Our whole family, except for my Mother in law who got the vaccine on the NHS, paid to have the combined seasonal and swine flu jab, yet we all have the flu. I have only ever been this ill, once in my life. A bit better than yesterday, but still woozy and feeling drunk. Hacking and sneezing like never in my life. It started on Monday night with a cracking headache. My son had it since friday last week and is still a bit ill now. It made him puke everywhere - all over me! No puking for me, but terrible aches and shivering with fever. The fever lasted, on and off, for two days. Is there a new strain that they have no vaccine for? I dont usually get the flu jab - only evr had it once, years ago - as I virtually never get flu or a cold. Is this a new strain?

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Mikegall said on 07 August 2011

The description of the flu is quite accurate. I wonder about the efficacy of the flu jab?

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AquaBabe said on 28 February 2011

A friend of mine had the seasonal flu jab last November but has been in bed for nearly a week with a bad dose of flu. Her GP confirmed today that it is the flu.

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