In 2016/17, there were 1,055 reported outbreaks of acute respiratory illness (which includes flu), compared with 656 outbreaks in 2015/16.1 With cases on the rise, we have put together a quick guide about what flu is and what you can do to try and prevent catching and spreading the virus.

What is flu?

The NHS describes flu (or influenza) as “a common infectious viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes.”

Flu can be caught all year round, however it’s much more common in the winter months. Not to be confused with the common cold, flu is caused by a different group of viruses and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly, are more severe and last longer. There are five key symptoms for people to look out for:

  • a high temperature of at least 38C (100.4F)
  • headaches
  • a chesty cough
  • general aches and pains
  • tiredness and weakness

How can I avoid catching flu?

The main ways to help you avoid catching flu are having the flu vaccine and practising good hygiene.2

Flu vaccine – The vaccine is recommended for people over the age of 65, pregnant women, people with an underlying health condition and people with weakened immune systems. Flu viruses change every year so it’s important to have your vaccination every year. The flu jab is free to people that fall into the high risk categories, and most pharmacies offer both the NHS free flu jab as well as the private jab – to find your nearest flu clinic, click here. The UK is gradually introducing the nasal flu vaccine for all children – it is rolling out the programme to all primary schools, and continuing to vaccinate children aged 2 to 4 years.2

Good hygiene – Practicing good hygiene is even more important during the winter as it helps to limit your exposure to illness. Good hygiene can be accomplished by making sure you wash your hands regularly and clean surfaces you use throughout the day – such as keyboards, telephones and door handles. It’s also important to use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and to dispose of it as soon as possible to avoid spreading germs.

What do I do if I think I have flu?

If you have no underlying health issues and are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to see your GP and the best thing to do is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of fluids. Paracetamol can also help to ease aches and pains you may be suffering from.3 Most people will be out-of-action for approximately one week before making a full recovery and being able to return to work or school without the risk of spreading the illness.

In certain situations, you may need to visit your GP to get medication to treat or prevent complications of flu, such as it developing into pneumonia. In the UK, an average of 600 people a year die from complications of seasonal flu2 so you should consider visiting your GP if:

  • you’re 65 years of age or over
  • you’re pregnant
  • you have a long term medical condition, or a weakened immune system
  • you develop chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • your symptoms are getting worse over time or haven’t improved after a week

If you’re unsure whether you should visit your GP or not, you can visit your local pharmacy where the pharmacist is trained to offer advice, or will advise if you need to visit your GP. Or you could ring 111, which is the NHS non-emergency helpline.

To find out more about Sovereign Health Care and how a health care cash plan can help to keep you fit and healthy, visit

2 Vaccine Knowledge Project

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