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Flu symptoms: What you might feel

Are you wondering if you have flu? While flu symptoms often mimic a cold, a common cold rarely causes a temperature over 38C. Let's learn more about flu symptoms so you are fully prepared if you fall ill.

Why do I need to know about flu symptoms?

Flu is an acute respiratory infection caused by a variety of flu viruses. It's important to understand flu symptoms so you can seek immediate treatment, especially if you have a chronic medical condition.

The earlier you recognise that you have the flu can also make a difference in how long it lasts. Prescription medications called antiviral medicines - zanamivir and oseltamivir - are most effective when given within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. These flu medicines are effective against the typical strains of seasonal flu as well as swine flu. They can decrease the duration of the flu by one day if used within this early window. These antivirals are usually given for a period of about five to seven days.

How will I know flu season has started?

Seasonal flu follows a fairly predictable pattern, starting in the autumn and ending in the spring. A good sign that seasonal flu season has started is the sudden increase in the number of school-aged children ill at home with flu-like symptoms. This initial flu outbreak is soon followed by similar infection in other age groups, especially adults.

How are flu symptoms different from symptoms with colds?

Unlike symptoms of a common cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. Flu usually starts with the abrupt onset of fever, headache, fatigue and body aches. Here's a list of flu symptoms you might feel:

  • High temperature
  • Severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes
  • Generalised weakness
  • Ill appearance with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat and watery discharge from your nose
  • Diarrhoea or upset stomach

What are common flu symptoms in children?

Typical signs of flu in children include high-grade temperature, up to 40℃, chills, muscle aches, headaches, sore throat, dry cough and just plain feeling ill. Flu may also cause vomiting and diarrhoea. These flu symptoms usually last for three to four days, but cough and tiredness may linger for up to two weeks after the fever has gone away. Other family members or close contacts often have a similar illness.

What about flu symptoms in infants and toddlers?

In young children, seasonal or swine flu symptoms may be similar to those of other respiratory tract infections such as croup, bronchitis or pneumonia. Abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea are frequently observed in young children. Vomiting tends to be more significant than diarrhoea. Temperature is usually high and irritability may be prominent.

In infants, flu symptoms often go unrecognised because the flu signs and symptoms are not specific and may suggest a bacterial infection. Flu in infants younger than 6 months is less common, but symptoms include lethargy, poor feeding and poor circulation.

Because young children with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, heart or kidney diseases are at increased risk of getting severe flu complications, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer recommends that these children over six months get a seasonal flu vaccine every year. Flu jabs are currently not recommended for children without chronic diseases but it is planned to offer all children aged two to 17 years old routine flu vaccination in the future.

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