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NHS paramedicSeasonal and pandemic influenza

Seasonal flu

Seasonal flu normally occurs during the winter months. It is a much more serious illness than a cold and it usually results in having to go to bed for several days, feeling very poorly with a high temperature and aching limbs.

Older people and people with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma) are most at risk of developing complications if they catch flu. This is why the seasonal flu vaccination is recommended to these groups of people each year.

Find out more about seasonal flu and how to be vaccinated

Pandemic flu

A pandemic happens when a completely new strain of flu virus develops which no-one has built up any immunity against. As a result, the new flu strain spreads very rapidly around the world and affects many people. A pandemic could start at any time of the year.

Existing vaccines will not protect against the new strain and new vaccines take time to develop, and so are not available immediately. The symptoms of a pandemic flu strain are likely to be similar to seasonal flu but may be more severe and cause more complications.

Historically, pandemic flu outbreaks have happened every few decades. Health organisations in the UK and around the world are closely monitoring flu viruses to anticipate a pandemic, and very detailed plans are in place to help people to respond, if and when a pandemic happens.

Signs and symptoms of seasonal flu

  • high temperature (38.5c)
  • headache
  • tiredness
  • chills
  • aching muscles
  • sore throat
  • loss of appetite

The incubation period (time between contact with the virus and the onset of symptoms) ranges from one to four days. Most people will feel ill for around a week and will probably feel “washed out” for a few days afterwards.

For most people, flu is just an unpleasant experience but it can lead to serious illnesses, like bronchitis and pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.

Catching flu

Flu is mostly caught by breathing in air containing the virus. The virus is passed into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes and others can then breathe it in. Flu is highly infectious and can spread very rapidly from person to person. People are most infectious soon after they develop symptoms, though they can continue to spread the virus for around five days. This is longer in children.

If you develop flu-like symptoms -

  • if at work go home immediately (after informing your manager/supervisor)
  • stay at home and do not go to work or school until you are fully recovered
  • take medicines, such as paracetamol, to relieve the symptoms – always follow the instructions on the medicines
  • drink plenty of fluids
  • for advice on treatment, contact NHS Direct on 0845 464
  • only see your doctor if you get complications (for example, a chest infection) or a worsening of any existing chronic condition

Protect yourself and others from flu

  • use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when coughing and/or sneezing
  • dispose of the tissue promptly, by bagging and binning it, and then wash your hands
  • clean hands frequently with soap and water, especially after coughing, sneezing and using tissues. An alcohol handrub could be used as an alternative for cleaning hands, if water is not available
  • avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose, unless you have recently cleaned your hands
  • use normal household detergent and water to clean surfaces frequently touched by hands
  • wash your hands when arriving back from outside activities, before and after direct contact with contaminated surfaces, after contact with bodily secretions, before handling food, before eating or smoking
  • make sure all members of your family follow this advice.

Top tip - consider what you would do for childcare if your children’s nursery or school is closed.

Give soap a chance

By washing your hands you can prevent -

  • diarrhoea and vomiting
  • food poisoning
  • flu
  • Norovirus
  • MRSA

The most common way germs are spread is by people's hands. Germs are often harmless but they can also cause illnesses such as colds, flu and tummy bugs.

Washing your hands properly with soap and warm water is the single most important thing you can do to help reduce the spread of infections and help protect you, your family and those around you.

It is vitally important that all children are made aware of the importance and benefits of washing your hands properly. Encouraging children to wash thier hands at appropriate times will help to ensure that this practice becomes a lifelong habit. 

The video below shows you how to wash your hands properly and effectively, to minimise the risk of spreading germs.


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Hull City Council, Guildhall, Alfred Gelder Street, Hull, HU1 2AA

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