Colds and flu

The evenings might be getting lighter but it's still definitely winter, and that means bugs are still out in force. Here's how to tell if you have a bit of a cold, or the nasty virus we know as flu


A cold is a virus that affects your head and chest, including your nose, ears and throat. Symptoms of a cold include blocked ears, a runny nose, sneezing, a slight fever (37.2 to 37.8°C), a sore throat, feeling a bit tired and having a headache. It develops over a few days and can last from one to two weeks. The best treatment is rest and plenty of water, although you can take a mild painkiller like paracetamol to relieve a headache or bring a fever down.


This is a fast spreading virus that affects your nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms can come on within a few hours of exposure and are much worse than a cold. Symptoms can include fever, chills, muscle aches, runny nose, a cough, vomiting and stomach upset. Temperatures will often be above 38°C. The main symptoms will last about five days, and it is important that you stay away from work or school to stop the spread. You may need to see your GP for a medical certificate to stay off work. Take plenty of rest and drink plenty of water, and see a doctor if symptoms do not improve. Pregnant women, those over 65, children under one year of age and those with chronic illnesses like diabetes should always seek medical advice. 

Every year people die from flu. Speak to your GP about having an annual vaccination, which is free for many people. 

Prevention is better than a cure

If you have a virus, prevent the spread by following these simple rules:

  • Turn away from others when you cough or sneeze
  • Use tissues to blow your nose
  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
  • Wash your hands before touching food
  • Don't share bottles, cups or use public drinking fountains
  • Avoid close contact with others for the first 2–4 days

You can avoid catching a cold by:

  • Avoiding people who have a cold.
  • Keep your hands away from your nose and mouth
  • Wash your hands often
  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Exercise

Remember, those who don't smoke are less likely to catch a virus. For help with giving up smoking visit