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Top 10 questions about the flu

1. What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because they have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart.

Influenza - the flu - develops when a flu virus infects your respiratory system, including your nose, throat, bronchial tubes and possibly the lungs. A cold virus usually infects only your upper respiratory tract - your nose and throat. Flu symptoms are generally worse than illness caused by the common cold. What some people call stomach flu or intestinal flu is really another virus that causes vomiting and diarrhoea. It's confusing terminology, because it really isn't the flu. It's just another type of viral infection.

2. Why are people so concerned about the flu?

Because the flu virus can infect the lungs, it can cause a serious infection like pneumonia. And that's what worries people. If the flu develops into pneumonia it can require admission to hospital and even lead to death. People with weak immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, infants and people with long-term health problems, are at greatest risk.

3. Can flu vaccinations cause the flu?

The flu jab does not contain live viruses so it cannot give you the flu. However, the vaccine can trigger an immune response from your body, so you may have a few mild symptoms like achy muscles or a mild fever.

Because flu viruses differ from year to year you need an annual flu vaccination to try to prevent the flu. The vaccines don't guarantee that you are 100% protected. You could catch a strain that is not included in the current year's vaccine. Flu jabs are considered the best prevention available today.

The NHS recommends flu vaccination for all those aged 65 years and over and anyone aged six months or over who have:

Those living in long-term residential care homes are advised to have a flu jab, and the main carers of elderly and disabled people may be offered a flu jab.

All children aged 2, 3 and 4 years old, and those children in school years 1, 2 and 3 are recommended to have an annual flu vaccination given via a nasal spray.

4. What else can I do to prevent the flu?

Flu and cold viruses are transmitted the same way, through microscopic droplets from an infected person's respiratory system. That person sneezes or coughs, and droplets are sprayed onto any nearby surface or person. If they cough or sneeze into their hands (without a tissue), their hands then carry droplets to surfaces they touch. You touch that surface and pick up the virus. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you've just infected yourself.

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