Colds and flu affect 15 million people each year in the UK. Often people make unnecessary trips to their GP when they should be resting at home. However, flu can be a serious condition for some people, so it’s important to get advice if you have flu like symptoms.
Seasonal flu is a highly infectious respiratory illness caused by a variety of different flu viruses. It spreads rapidly through droplets dispersed by the coughs and sneezes of infected people.
Each year, a vaccine is developed to protect against the strains of flu virus that are expected to be most prevalent that winter.
The flu jab is offered to people in at-risk groups. These are people, such as pregnant women and the elderly, who are at greater risk of developing serious complications if they catch flu.
More about at-risk groups
There are around 200 viruses that cause colds and three that cause flu. There are many strains of these flu viruses, and the vaccine changes every year to protect against the most common ones.
Symptoms of a cold include:
People with a cold may also suffer with a mild fever, earache, tiredness and headache. Symptoms develop over one or two days and gradually get better after a few days. Some colds can last for up to two weeks.
Flu usually comes on much more quickly than a cold, and symptoms include:
Flu symptoms appear one to three days after infection and most people recover within a week, although you may feel tired for longer. A severe cold can also cause muscle aches and fever, so it can be hard to tell the difference.
Whether it’s a cold or flu, get medical help if you have a chronic condition (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), or if you have a very high fever as well as an unusually severe headache or abdominal or chest pain.