Greater Manchester agencies working in partnership
Greater Manchester agencies working in partnership

Influenza Type Disease

What is Influenza?

Influenza, often referred to as ‘flu’, is a respiratory illness cause by flu viruses. It is very infectious and can easily be spread to others.

Flu is different to a common cold and the symptoms are more severe, often causing additional complications such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Some or all of the following symptoms are likely to be experienced with a flu virus:

  • Fever, or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Possibly vomiting and diarrhoea (more common in children than adults)

Did You Know

  • The flu virus can be spread through small droplets of fluid when coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person.
  • You are more likely to pass the virus on in the first 5 days.
  • The virus can live on hands and surfaces for 24 hours.

What is an Influenza Pandemic?

An influenza (flu) pandemic is a worldwide event in which many people are infected with a flu virus in a short period of time. This could affect up to half of the UK population and cause thousands of deaths.

A normal flu virus is seasonal, whereas a flu pandemic can occur at any time of the year. Based on previous pandemics the impact occurs in one or more waves which can be weeks or months apart.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers an outbreak to be a pandemic when:

  • A new influenza virus affects humans which has not been seen before and there is no natural immunity to it
  • The virus spreads easily and survives in humans.

Cold or Flu? Know the Difference!

Signs and Symptoms 

Influenza 

Cold 

Symptom onset 

Abrupt 

Gradual 

Fever 

Usual; lasts 3-4 days 

Rare 

Aches 

Usual; often severe 

Slight 

Chills 

Fairly common 

Uncommon 

Fatigue, weakness 

Usual 

Sometimes 

Sneezing 

Sometimes 

Common 

Stuffy nose 

Sometimes 

Common 

Sore throat 

Sometimes 

Common 

Chest discomfort, cough 

Common; can be severe 

Mild to moderate; hacking cough 

Headache 

Common 

Rare 

What are the Risks?

An influenza pandemic can range in its severity and impact. The most notable influenza pandemic was the Spanish Flu in 1918 with an estimated 20 to 40 million deaths worldwide. In the UK there were an estimated 228,000 deaths.

In contrast, the Swine Flu (H1N1) epidemic in 2009 was mild by comparison but still took the life of 457 people in the UK alone in a short period of time and cost the UK economy an estimated £1.24 billion.

A pandemic will affect millions of people around the world causing global disruption and humanitarian crisis. Staff shortages will affect the provision of services, utilities, production and transportation of goods. Health care and local authority social care systems will become extremely stretched and potentially overloaded which would reduce the level of care for vulnerable people.

Am I at Risk?

Flu can be more severe for people with less developed or weaker immune systems, or for those who face regular exposure to sick patients. High risk groups include:

  • Children under 5, particularly under 2 years
  • Adults aged 65 or over
  • Pregnant women
  • People with existing medical conditions, such as asthma, kidney disease, and heart disease
  • Those with a weakened immune system
  • Health and social care professionals

How can you help to protect yourself and others?

For those in high risk groups, it is advised to get the flu vaccination each year for seasonal flu, and the vaccination for pandemic flu when it becomes available.

Catch it, bin it, kill it

There are a number of actions which you can take to protect yourself from pandemic influenza:

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and bin that tissue as soon as possible to reduce the spread of the virus
  • Wash hands and work surfaces both regularly and thoroughly to kill the virus
  • If you are infectious you should avoid unnecessary contact with other people. If you do have flu it is better to stay off work until you are well. Have a ‘flu friend’ who can bring you any over-the-counter medicines or a prescription for any other supplies as this can help prevent the unnecessary contact
  • Keeping healthy can help to build up a good defence against the flu
  • Keeping a stock of over-the-counter cold and flu medication will help to relieve symptoms
  • Be aware of contingency arrangements at your children’s schools
  • Follow the guidance and advice from the NHS and Local Authority
  • Get vaccinated, especially those in high risk groups
  • Monitor local media for up to date advice
  • If you own your own business, have a contingency plan in place for high levels of staff absence in case of a pandemic

What preparation has been done in Greater Manchester to prepare for a potential flu pandemic?

  • Plans are in place to manage a significant increase in demand for NHS and social care services
  • Plans to distribute anti-viral medication to the public are in place should it be required
  • Vaccination programmes can be implemented, once a suitable vaccine has been developed for the particular strain of flu
  • Public awareness campaigns in place to help to reduce the spread of flu viruses
  • Plans are in place to manage an increased number of deaths
  • Local Authorities and the government can provide advice to local businesses about coping with staff shortages