The flu, medically known as influenza, commonly known as the ‘common cold’ is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that can infect multiple areas of your body - mainly your nose, throat, and occasionally the lungs. Symptoms vary significantly and can be very mild or at worst severe and in sporadic cases may lead to death.
Causes of flu
The common cold is caused by influenza viruses - a virus is an infectious microbe or particle that cannot replicate alone and must infect cells to be able to recreate itself. As the flu is contagious, it can spread when people cough or sneeze which sends droplets with the virus into the air. If someone is near someone who has the flu, they may unintentionally inhale those droplets.
There are several types of influenza viruses which is why there are always “flu seasons” each year, as although many people decide to get the flu jab (vaccination), as the virus itself changes each year, our bodies may not have the correct antibodies (type of protein that fights foreign bodies/pathogens) to fight a particular type of flu.
Warning signs that you have flu
There are several warning signs that you have the flu and many people experience different initial symptoms. However, the most common ones are the following:
- A fever or feeling feverish/shivering
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
Is it contagious?
The simple answer is yes. The flu is contagious (particularly when your symptoms are just surfacing and you are at the beginning of your cold). To help prevent spreading the flu, it is usually advised to stay at home or not go to school if you are feeling particularly bad or have a fever. According to the American Lung Association, you can spread the flu even before you know you are ill, and can be infectious up to 5 to 7 days after first getting ill.
What kills the flu virus in our body?
There are many natural ways in which we can kill the flu virus or at least ease the symptoms of the flu whilst our bodies naturally fight it. However, several medicines can be useful when fighting a cough or common cold, to ease any severe symptoms even further and aid the body’s immune system.
Tips to prevent flu
One of the best recommendations when you start to feel like you may have a cold, whether that’s with a slightly itchy or sore throat, or with a slight fever. To prevent any symptoms from getting worse, rest a lot and make sure you are getting more than enough sleep. It is also important to ensure that you drink plenty of fluids and keep your body hydrated.
Another natural way that the body fights the cold is when you have a fever. A lot of the symptoms of having a cold (fever, cough, runny nose) are ways of the immune system fighting the virus and helping your body get over the cold. A fever kills the virus by increasing your internal body temperature, which helps white blood cells that attack the virus and the immune system work better. This increase in temperature also means that the virus does not replicate itself as well, as it cannot work under optimum temperature conditions - it works less well under higher temperatures. Coughing and sneezing expel any bacteria and phlegm from your body which allows you to rid yourself of bacteria that collect when you have a cold.
There are also several natural remedies, such as drinking lots of warm water, water with lemon and honey, or hot water with lemon and ginger. Taking vitamin C supplements can also aid the immune system in fighting the flu.
Several medications help with the common cold. Some help homeopathically and others are over-the-counter medication. Examples include:
- Paracetamol - which helps with fever, headaches, and sore throat
- Lemsip - which helps alleviate symptoms of your fever, headaches, and sore throat as well as a blocked nose
If you are particularly concerned about a symptom that is worsening, or you just have a few questions about what sort of medication can be taken, do not hesitate to get in contact with your local GP. Speaking to your local pharmacist is also an ideal option, as they are also medically trained to deal with medication advice.
Managing flu and treatments
One of the best ways to manage the flu and recover successfully is to monitor symptoms and consider the age of the patient who is suffering from the flu, as well as if they have other underlying health conditions that may put them more at risk.
Beware of complications that can arise, as a result of a weakened immune system when you have a cold, such as chest infections. If you have a persistent cough that is worsening over days, seek further advice from your GP.
Additionally, be aware that if you are at risk due to an underlying health condition, or you are over a certain age, you will be eligible for the free NHS influenza vaccine. This can help prevent you from getting a cold in the future. If you would like to know more about this or know if you are eligible, please contact your local GP, as they will have the most up-to-date information as to whether you can get the influenza vaccine or not.
Whilst the flu is almost always mild and manageable, occasionally it can cause very severe symptoms and be life-threatening, especially for anyone who is at high risk or is suffering from another condition at the same time. Some of the examples of conditions that may put someone at risk if they catch the flu are
- Any chronic lung conditions such as asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis
- If someone is suffering from heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Morbid obesity
- Severe anemia (for example, sickle cell anemia)
- A disease that affects the immune system IV, aids)
- If someone is undergoing chemotherapy treatment, as these drugs suppress the person’s immune system
- Mousa HA-L. Prevention and Treatment of Influenza, Influenza-Like Illness, and Common Cold by Herbal, Complementary, and Natural Therapies. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 May 24]; 22(1):166–74. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871211/.
- Shahrajabian MH, Sun W, Cheng Q. Traditional Herbal Medicine for the Prevention and Treatment of Cold and Flu in the Autumn of 2020, Overlapped With COVID-19. Natural Product Communications [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 May 24]; 15(8):1934578X2095143. Available from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1934578X20951431.
- Moghadami M. A Narrative Review of Influenza: A Seasonal and Pandemic Disease. Iran J Med Sci [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2023 May 24]; 42(1):2–13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337761/.