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How is the flu transmitted?

Mum laughing with kids on sofa
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In the UK, flu season runs from December to March (although outbreaks can occur from early autumn to late spring). If you’re concerned about catching the flu this winter, read on for answers to some common questions about how the flu virus is transmitted. The more you know about transmission, the easier it will be to stay protected.

How is the flu spread?

The flu virus is primarily spread via the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. Droplets of fluid carrying the virus are expelled from the mouth or nose, and can travel a short distance of around six feet. If another person inhales these droplets into their lungs, they can become infected.  

Is the flu airborne or carried on droplets?

Most experts agree that flu is a “droplet spread” infection, rather than an airborne infection. This means it is carried on large droplets of fluid which only travel short distances.

In recent years, some studies – including one at the University of Maryland – have reported that the flu virus is airborne, and can be transmitted through breathing alone. However, the current guidance from institutions such as the CDC and the NHS is that it is primarily spread through droplets.

Can flu be transmitted through clothing?

The flu virus can be spread on surfaces, including clothing. If someone in your household has flu, you’ll want to clean any surfaces after they have touched them including communal areas like bathrooms. You could also regularly wash their clothing and bedding.

Avoiding flu this season

None of us want to get ill with the flu or pass it on to those around us. There are some things you can do to lower your chance of catching the flu and other seasonal illnesses.

Our top tips to avoid the flu:

  • Wash your hands regularly. If you can’t use soap and water, then use hand sanitiser
  • Keep surfaces around your home clean
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • When coughing or sneezing cover your mouth with a tissue
  • Avoid getting too close to people who are sick

If you’re sick with the flu you should take time off work and stay home until you feel well. You can help yourself feel better by resting, keeping warm and staying hydrated. You can also take flu remedies and painkillers to help ease symptoms. Make sure to read the information leaflet before taking flu treatments.

How long am I contagious with the flu?

The average adult is thought to be contagious for around seven days, beginning one day before symptoms start. Usually you will continue to be contagious for five to seven days after you start to feel ill. You will be most contagious in the first three to four days of your illness.

For children or people with weakened immune systems, the period of contagion may be longer.

Can you be exposed to the flu and not get it?

Some people can be infected with the flu, but never realise as they don’t experience any symptoms. In this instance, a person who has the virus in their system can still pass it on to other people – even if they do not feel ill.

How long should you stay home with the flu?

Most people will start to feel better after a week, although symptoms and tiredness may persist beyond that. Generally, you should stay home until you begin to feel well again.

Remember going into work or trying to socialise when you have the flu means you risk passing the virus on to other people. It’s always better to stay home and wait for your symptoms to pass.

Why does the flu spread in the winter?

The flu virus exists year-round, but outbreaks are most common in the winter and early spring. It’s thought that the flu virus survives for longer in cold, dry air, and that it spreads more easily in the winter months as we spend more time inside in close contact with one another. Flu vaccinations at LloydsPharmacy open from autumn each year, as an annual vaccination can help to protect you from flu.

Who gets the flu most often?

Certain people will be more susceptible to becoming seriously ill from the flu because of their age or physical condition. You’re most at risk if you’re 65 or older, pregnant, or live with a serious health condition such as asthma, kidney disease, diabetes or HIV.

The good news is that the flu vaccine is free on the NHS for people in these high-risk groups.

How can I build up my immunity to the flu?

Each year, different strains of the virus become more prevalent. Every time your body is exposed to a new strain of the flu, your immune system has to release new antibodies to fight the infection. These antibodies will not necessarily provide any protection for future strains of the virus, which is why you can get sick with the flu year after year.

The only way to prepare your immune system to fight off the flu is to get the flu vaccine before flu season begins. It’s normally recommended that you get the vaccine in October or November. Flu vaccinations are available at LloydsPharmacy stores. Find your nearest pharmacy today.

Preventing the spread of the flu virus

If you catch the flu, the best thing you can do is stay home and rest to allow yourself to recover. You shouldn’t go into work or keep up with any social commitments, and you should minimise contact with other people.

In addition, keep up a good standard of hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap, avoid sharing towels, cups or utensils with other people, and make sure you always sneeze or cough into a tissue.