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Influenza (Flu)

Though pandemic flu occurs only infrequently, flu, caused by one of the three main influenza viruses, is ever-present, though more prevalent in the winter, with localised epidemics occurring every few years. Flu has a very short incubation period of 1-3 days and causes a high temperature, headache, sore throat, tiredness and aches and pains all over the body. Anyone can be affected but the elderly are generally most vulnerable. It is unpleasant, though rarely serious, in children but, as with all infections, those with underlying medical conditions are more at risk. Death certificates record that fewer than ten children die from flu in the UK in most years. However it is argued that this under records deaths from flu and it is estimated, by 'statistical modelling', that, on average, between 40 and 50 children actually die from flu yearly, though many, if not most, will have underlying health problems. The vast majority of flu deaths occur in those over 70 years of age. Treatment involves rest, plenty to drink and a drug such as paracetamol to lower the fever. Most people recover within two weeks. Antibiotics are of no help with flu itself, though may be necessary to treat any ‘secondary’ infections of, typically, the chest or ear.