What is Flu? Influenza or flu, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Flu is highly contagious and is usually spread by the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. You can also catch flu by touching an infected person i.e. shaking hands. Adults are contagious 1 to 2 days before showing symptoms and for up to 7 days after becoming ill. This means you can spread the flu virus before you even know you are infected. So, what is a flu epidemic? Put simply, it is a sudden outbreak of the virus spreading rapidly and affecting many people at the same time. Many of these flu epidemic cases can be mild, especially if caught early enough to treat with antivirals, like Tamiflu. Measures can be taken to protect yourself and are outlined below. The Common Cold What’s the difference between a ‘common cold’ and flu? Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat. A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold and has a sudden onset. As short as a few hours in most cases. Flu Symptoms The most common symptoms of flu are fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. Healthy individuals usually recover with 2 to 7 days, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation or permanent disability, but only in extreme cases. Treatment and Prevention Resting and taking over-the-counter preparations such as paracetamol and consuming plenty of fluids will help. Anyone with flu-like symptoms should stay at home until they feel better, so they do not infect others. You can help reduce the spread of all viruses by encouraging good personal hygiene. Think, frequent handwashing with soap and water, covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and using a tissue when possible. Cleaning hard surfaces, i.e. door handles, frequently using your usual cleaning product is also important. Antibiotics will not be effective against the flu, only against any secondary infection that may develop, and repeated use of antibiotics can also lead to an antibiotic resistance. Stop the spread. Flu can spread quite easily between people. 1. Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too. 2. Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others. 3. Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. 4. Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. 5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. 6. Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.