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Influenza (commonly known as Flu) - Information for patients and the general public

What is influenza?

Flu is an infectious and common viral illness caused by influenza viruses that can infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs.

What are the symptoms?

Although symptoms may be similar to those of the common cold, they tend to be more severe and last longer. Flu typically causes a sudden high temperature, cough, headache and general aches and pains, tiredness, a sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose. You can also lose your appetite and feel nauseated. Flu symptoms can make you feel so exhausted and unwell that you have to stay in bed and rest until you feel better.

How long will someone with 'flu be infectious to others?

People are most infectious soon after they develop symptoms. They can continue to spread the virus, for example in coughs and sneezes, for up to five days (seven days

in children). People are considered no longer infectious if their symptoms have settled, or if still symptomatic and it has been at least seven days from the onset of symptoms (10 days in children).

How can I catch it?

The virus is contagious and can spread between people.

Transmission is by:

  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Touching or shaking the hand of an infected person and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose
  • Touching surfaces or objects that have become contaminated with the flu virus and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose without first washing your hands.

Am I infectious if I don't have symptoms?

No. If you do not have symptoms of seasonal flu you are not infectious.

Preventing Transmission of Infection

Hand hygiene

  • Always wash your hands regularly with soap and water and dry thoroughly, and ensure that you wash your hands after visiting the toilet and before handling food.
  • 'Catch it, bin it, kill it' - if you have symptoms of flu, use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, put the used tissues in a bin as soon as possible then wash your hands straight away.


  • You can also help stop the spread of flu by avoiding all unnecessary contact with other people while you're infectious. You should stay off work until you are no longer infectious and you're feeling better.
  • In hospital, a patient with symptoms of flu will normally be looked after in a single room with the doors closed. If there are a number of symptomatic cases on a ward, infected patients may be nursed in a dedicated bay. If it is not possible to isolate all symptomatic patients then sometimes the ward may be closed to new admissions.
  • Transfers to other areas of the hospital or back to care homes may be postponed to prevent further spread.

Additional precautions in hospital

  • If staff are providing care to a patient with flu they will be wearing items such as masks and, depending on the type of care that they are giving, they may also be wearing gloves, aprons or eye protection such as goggles or visors.
  • Visitors may sometimes be advised to wear items such as masks, gloves or aprons, The Nurse In Charge will advise
  • If you have been wearing a mask, gloves or an apron to visit a patient with flu, before leaving the room or bay you must take them off and put them straight in the bin. Then wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry them carefully.

The flu vaccine

Vaccination is an important way of reducing the risk of catching flu and flu vaccination more than two weeks earlier may reduce the risk of becoming infected. The vaccine is available free on the NHS for:

  • anyone over the age of 65 
  • pregnant women
  • children and adults with an underlying health condition (particularly long-term heart or respiratory disease)
  • children and adults with weakened immune systems

For further information

Speak to the staff caring for you or your relative or contact your GP

Further information about flu can be found at the NHS choices web site:


Published 15 January 2018

'The treatment I have received from all the staff has been excellent and could you extend my thanks to them all. A very thankful and relieved patient'.

Patient, Dermatology Outpatients Department, University Hospital of North Durham