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Flu

Flu will often get better on its own, but it can make some people seriously ill. It's important to get the flu vaccine if you're advised to.

Check if you have flu

Flu symptoms come on very quickly and can include:

  • a sudden high temperature
  • an aching body
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • a dry cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea or tummy pain
  • feeling sick and being sick

The symptoms are similar for children, but they can also get pain in their ear and appear less active.

Telling the difference between cold and flu

Cold and flu symptoms are similar, but flu tends to be more severe.

Differences between cold and flu.
Flu Cold
Appears quickly within a few hours Appears gradually
Affects more than just your nose and throat Affects mainly your nose and throat
Makes you feel exhausted and too unwell to carry on as normal Makes you feel unwell, but you still feel well enough to do your normal activities

How to treat flu yourself

If you have flu, there are some things you can do to help get better more quickly.

Do

  • rest and sleep

  • keep warm

  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower your temperature and treat aches and pains

  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration (your pee should be light yellow or clear)

A pharmacist can help with flu

A pharmacist can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies.

Do not take paracetamol and flu remedies that contain paracetamol at the same time as it's easy to take more than the recommended dose.

Call a pharmacy or contact them online before going in person. You can get medicines delivered or ask someone to collect them.

Information:

Antibiotics

GPs do not recommend antibiotics for flu because they will not relieve your symptoms or speed up your recovery.

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

You or your child have symptoms of flu and:

  • you're worried about your baby's or child's symptoms
  • you're 65 or over
  • you're pregnant
  • you have a long-term medical condition – for example, diabetes or a condition that affects your heart, lungs, kidneys, brain or nerves
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or HIV
  • your symptoms do not improve after 7 days

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if you:

  • get sudden chest pain
  • have difficulty breathing
  • start coughing up a lot of blood

How to avoid spreading the flu

Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. You're more likely to give it to others in the first 5 days.

Flu is spread by germs from coughs and sneezes, which can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

To reduce the risk of spreading flu:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible

Try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities.

See how to wash your hands correctly

Video: how to wash your hands

Watch this video to find out the best way to wash your hands.

Media last reviewed: 30 March 2020
Media review due: 30 March 2023

How to get a flu vaccine

Flu vaccines are safe and effective. They're offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of flu and its complications.

The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn before flu starts spreading. But you can get vaccinated later.

Adults who can have a flu vaccine

A flu vaccine is given to people who:

  • are 65 and over (including those who'll be 65 by 31 March 2023)
  • have certain health conditions
  • are pregnant
  • are in a long-stay residential care
  • receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
  • live with someone who has a weakened immune system (such as someone who has had a transplant, is living with HIV or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)
  • are frontline health workers
  • are social care workers and cannot get the vaccine through work
Information:

People aged 50 and over (including those who'll be 50 by 31 March 2023) can also get a flu vaccine from mid-October 2022.

Children who can have a flu vaccine

The children's nasal spray flu vaccine is given to:

  • children aged 2 or 3 on 31 August 2022 (born between 1 September 2018 and 31 August 2020)
  • all primary school children
  • some secondary school children
  • children aged 2 to 17 with certain health conditions

Babies and children aged 6 months to 2 years with certain health conditions will be offered a flu vaccine injection instead of the nasal spray.

Where to get a flu vaccine

You can have an NHS flu vaccine at:

  • your GP surgery
  • a pharmacy offering the service (if you're aged 18 or over)
  • some maternity services if you're pregnant

Sometimes, you may be offered a flu vaccine at a hospital appointment.

School-aged children will be offered a vaccine at school or a community clinic.

Important: Important

Due to high demand for a flu vaccine, there may be some delays getting a vaccination appointment. Your GP surgery or pharmacy should be able to tell you when more appointments are available.

Information:

Find out more about the flu vaccine:

Page last reviewed: 05 September 2022
Next review due: 05 September 2025