Flu

Cold weather has a significant impact on the number of cases of flu, which is why you get many more cases throughout the winter months.

Influenza, or 'flu', is a very contagious acute viral infection that affects people of all ages, but can be more serious for pregnant women, very young children, and older people. It can also have more severe health impacts for people that have existing severe or long-term medical conditions.

Flu outbreaks often occur during the winter each year, which is why the illness is sometimes referred to as seasonal flu.

Symptoms

Flu symptoms hit you suddenly and sometimes severely. They usually include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, and you can often get a cough and sore throat at the same time. Flu is caused by viruses and not bacteria, so antibiotics won't treat it.

Flu vaccine

The best prevention against flu is the flu vaccine. Over time flu viruses are able to mutate so a new vaccine is produced every year based on the strains of virus expected to be circulating. NHS Choices advises that you ask your GP about having a free flu vaccination if:

  • you're 65 or over
  • you're pregnant
  • you have a serious medical condition
  • you live in a residential or nursing home 
  • you're the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill 
  • you or your child (over six months) is in a risk group

People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are also more at risk of ill-health and hospitalisation during periods of cold weather and are more susceptible to illness from high levels of circulating respiratory infections, including flu. Visit our COPD page for information about COPD and the weather.

You can find more information and advice about the flu vaccine on the NHS Choices website.

Keep warm, keep well

With some simple precautions, most people can be prepared for the cold weather and prevent much of the misery often associated with winter weather. Our Cold Weather Alerts inform you when cold weather, snow or ice has been forecast to help you stay one step ahead of the weather.

This winter the Met Office is hosting the get ready for winter web pages on behalf of HM Government and partners. These pages give some suggestions about the practical things that you and your community can do to prepare for a wide range of winter weather, including cold, ice and snow, high winds and flooding. The pages include a Health and well-being section that offers advice on steps to take to keep warm and well this winter.

Last updated: 18 February 2013