Have I had the flu?
By now lots of us will have had one or two winter colds;
some of these caused by the influenza virus. There are
several other viruses that cause similar symptoms: muscle
aches, fever, headache, blocked nose, sore throat and cough.
It is difficult to tell which virus has caused your illness, so
doctors use the term “flu-like illness” to describe this set of
symptoms. The Royal College of General Practitioners keeps a
database of GP consultations for flu-like illness, and the Health
Protection Agency at Collindale take samples from some patients to
identify the prevalence of influenza.
Every year the numbers of flu and flu-like-illnesses rise from
October to April in the UK.
Flu reaches epidemic proportions when the number of GP consultations
for flu-like-illness exceeds 200 per 100,000 people per week. This
winter the consultation rates peaked the week before Christmas at 60
per 100,000 and are now declining. The last epidemic in the UK was
in the winter of 1999/2000. The last flu pandemic (global epidemic)
was in 1968, in which an estimated 4 million people died of
complications of influenza.
The treatment for flu and flu-like-illness is to take paracetamol or
ibuprofen for the relief of symptoms, to drink plenty to avoid
dehydration and to rest until the symptoms have abated; a process
which usually takes one to two weeks. Antibiotics don’t help. The
condition is highly infectious. In the elderly and people with
chronic diseases the commonest complication is a secondary chest
infection, so people in these risk groups who develop breathing
difficulty should see their GP, especially if they haven’t been