Nasal symptoms are not considered to be a major feature. Most people with a runny nose are more likely to have a cold than influenza.

Fatigue is an important feature of influenza, and helps us tell it apart from the common cold. Patients with influenza are often so exhausted that they cannot get out of bed.


What can I do to get better?

Patients with no significant medical problems, who are able to eat and drink, will be able to fight off these infections with their immune system alone.

Medicines such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen may make you feel better, but they will not improve recovery time. 

Antibiotics do not treat influenza. Occasionally influenza will cause other infections which might require antibiotics, such as pneumonia. 

An anti-viral called Tamiflu has been used to treat influenza. It must be taken within 48 hours of symptoms in order to work. It is only available in certain circumstances on the NHS.

Are there tests?

Tests are not usually needed to make the diagnosis. 

A throat swab may be used to confirm influenza.

Blood tests are not usually necessary.

But wait – I have a medical condition….

Conditions which may complicate a persons recovery include: 

  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Diabetes

If you have another medical condition and worry it is relevant, check our list here .

How the virus is spread

The virus is spread by tiny droplets which float in the air and settle on our surroundings after people cough or sneeze. Contaminated tissues, glasses, toothbrushes and towels are can spread the infection.

How to avoid influenza?

The influenza vaccination, which comes as an injection for adults or a nasal spray for children, can be used to prevent the virus.

The virus is constantly changing. There are hundreds of different forms. Once identified, scientists group the virus based on its structure. There are 3 main groups known as influenza A, B and C.  There are over 140 different types of influenza A alone. Every year scientists try and predict which strain of the virus to create a vaccine for.

Getting vaccinated is not the only thing you can do. Regular hand washing may help prevent the virus from spreading.

Limiting your exposure to people who have the virus will decrease your risk. Places that carry a higher risk include hospitals, nursing homes, nurseries and schools.

What is in the influenza vaccine?

There are usually 3 types of influenza which are prevented by receiving the influenza vaccination. Some vaccines have a fourth component. It depends on which product your GP stocks.

Which viruses are prevented by the 2017-2018 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine?


How does the vaccine work?

Vaccines contain a less active forms of viruses. By exposing your immune system to the vaccine it helps prepare it for the virus. If your immune system encounters that virus again, it should be better at fighting it off.

Where can I get it?

At your GP surgery and in some pharmacies. If your children go to school and are under 8 years of age, it is likely they will be vaccinated there.

When should I get it?

September to November carries the best chance of success.

Who should get it?

At present the NHS is offering the influenza vaccination to the following groups of people:

  • Over 65s (you must be 65 as of 31st March 2018)
  • Children aged 6 months – 8 years old
  • Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
  • Significant medical conditions
  • Obesity
  • Those living in nursing and residential homes
  • Carers of those who are at significant risk if they contracted influenza
  • Health care professionals

Not eligible for the NHS influenza vaccinate?

If you are willing to have it done privately you could pay to have it. It will cost approximately £20. Speak to your practice and your pharmacy.

How long until I’m covered

14 days

I got sick right after the vaccination

The vaccination is not a guarantee against developing influenza, but it is a guarantee against developing the 3 types of the viruses contained within the vaccine. If you become unwell it is likely you were either exposed during the period where your body was still developing immunity or you were affected by a virus not covered by the vaccine.


What is the evidence that the influenza vaccine actually works?

Since the initiation of a national vaccination program in the UK, influenza related deaths have steadily decreased. The question remains, ‘Is this because of, or in spite of the influenza vaccination?’

The vaccine changes most years, therefore it is hard to get a clear picture on how good it is. The vaccination does decrease the number of deaths and the number of hospital attendances with influenza. However, the number of people we need to give the vaccine to in order to achieve this is high.

My views are that if you have a significant condition which could deteriorate because of contracting influenza, you should get the vaccination. Why wouldn’t you? If you get sick easily, your immune system could probably use all the help it can get.

If you regularly come into contact with someone who gets sick easily, you should definitely get the vaccination. You may be the carer to someone with a weak immune system for example. Getting the vaccination will prevent any feelings of guilt if you do pass on an infection to your loved one, as you have done all you can to protect them.

If you do not get sick often and you are eligible for the vaccination, it probably won’t matter to you if you get it or not. As a community however, the more people who receive the vaccination the better. Although you may not benefit much from the vaccination, that person you sit next to on the bus, the train, in the restaurant or at work may be more unwell than they let on. If you prevent them from getting sick by having the vaccination, then that is a good thing. I suppose it is a bit like giving blood. If you were in their shoes, you would hope everyone was vaccinated.

There is an argument that if you have the vaccination you are less likely to miss work. This argument does not appear to be well supported by the evidence.

Side effects of the injectable vaccine

There are no live components of the virus in the injectable vaccine.


Side effects of the Intranasal vaccine

This is the vaccine given to children aged 2 to 18 years old. This contains a live components of the virus. This may result in the patient having minor symptoms. 


What about in the long term?

The answer to this is that we don’t entirely know. We have been vaccinating people against influenza since the 1930s. So far there are no reported cases of the vaccination doing anybody any harm. However the vaccine changes every year so it is not possible to run extended trials to look into what the long term negative effects are from the vaccination. All we can say is that the short term positive benefits are good.

Can the influenza vaccination cause Autism?

Some years ago, the media suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. However, a large study of 95, 727 children in 2015 found no reason to believe there is a link between vaccines and autism.

Why do people die from influenza?

Influenza may cause a general decline in a pre-existing condition. For example, a patient who has severe heart disease may develop a heart attack or heart failure because of the influenza virus.

Patients may also develop other infections whilst their immune system is weakened from the influenza virus. Most commonly, we worry about bacterial infections such as pneumonia.

Patients with an impaired immune system may not mount an appropriate immune response to the virus. This includes patients with HIV, AIDS, diabetes or those on immunosuppressant medication, such as steroids.

Symptoms you should not be having

If you experience any of the symptoms above then contact your GP.


The nasal vaccine contains pork based products.

Both vaccines may contain traces of egg. 



Would you like to write for TeachMeGP?

We are always looking for new authors on a whole host of topics which affect our patients. So if you would like to submit a piece for consideration, we would love to read it. You can send all submissions to


Teach Me GP is not intended to be an alternative to seeing your own GP. It is intended to be used alongside your GP consultation as a learning aid. The advice provided within is as accurate and as comprehensive as possible. However, it is only general advice and should not be used as a substitute for consulting your own doctor.


The best of the rest….a run down of other useful internet resources available to help you manage your symptoms.



Is a headache or a cold your main issue? If so, follow this link to plug your symptoms straight into a questionnaire to find out what to do next.





Posted in Detailed Guides.


  1. Has any research been done on the teratogenicity of the flu vaccine?
    Clearly flu during pregnancy has risk to the fetus but do we really know the effect on the fetus?
    Parents were told Valproate was safe, it’s not.

    • This is an excellent question. The World Health Organisation states that from 1990 to 2009 there were 20 serious adverse events in the 11.8 million pregnant women given the trivalent influenza vaccine (see page 9 for more details). They go on to state that ” Studies have not found new, unusual, or unexpected patterns of serious acute events, adverse pregnancy outcomes, or congenital anomalies” such as the teratogenic effects you refer to.

      In the United States they collect adverse events into a report called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). This relies on people self reporting adverse events. For this reason it is likely to under report events, as some people will fail to report them. This may be because they forgot they had the vaccine, did not know the event was related to the vaccine or did not know who to report it to. This reporting system has failed to find any rise in congenital abnormalities compared with the background risk. They have also not found any link between the types of congenital abnormalities reported. That means that there is no clear rise in one single abnormality compared with other abnormalities.

      So does the vaccine cause congenital abnormalities in pregnant women? We don’t know for sure. The reports appear to suggest that it does not. The congenital abnormalities in people having the vaccine appear at a similar rate than those not having the vaccine. However the number of miscarriages in the unvaccinated group appears to be higher than in those who are vaccinated. So on balance having the vaccine does not appear to increase your rates of abnormalities, but it does appear to decrease your risk of miscarriage.

      It is again important to state that the vaccine changes every year. It is therefore not possible to say that this evidence is supportive of the current vaccine we use.

      I hope this helps to answer your question.

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