Treating the flu

The flu is an infectious respiratory illness caused by the “influenza” virus. It is a serious contagious disease which strikes in winter especially. Typical symptoms include a sudden fever, chills, cough, sore throat, headaches, muscle and joint pain, a cold and a loss of appetite.

The flu can last up to a week. The symptoms are more intense during the first few days and then  improve slowly.

Given that the flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics are useless.

The flu is not always risk-free. In contrast, it can lead to serious complications, in particular for people over the age of 65, pregnant women, patients with chronic illnesses, infants and premature children up to the age of 2. Pneumonia (a lung infection) is the most common complication.

The flu is very different to a simple cold or “chill”. It is caused by another virus which has more severe symptoms. A simple cold generally doesn’t bring on fever, headaches, muscle pains, and involves less significant muscle pain and fatigue.

The annual vaccination against the flu remains the most effective method of protecting yourself from the illness.


The flu is caused by the Influenza A and Influenza B viruses. The virus is spread easily through direct contact (sneezing, coughing or via the hands), especially in enclosed spaces or through indirect contact (e.g. objects, door handles). People carrying the virus can spread the flu virus to others even if they don’t (yet) feel sick.

An infected person is contagious from the day before symptoms appear and can spread the virus for three to five days.


Treating the flu requires rest, drinking a lot of fluids and taking medicine to relieve the pain and reduce fever. The medicine the most often used is paracetamol (Dafalgan, Panadol, etc.), and sometimes anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen are also necessary (Irfen, Algiflor, etc.). Other medicine may also be needed, such as a nasal spray to treat cold symptoms, lozenges for a sore throat and drops or syrups for coughs.

When should I visit a doctor?

The flu doesn’t require a visit to the doctor. However, we recommend that you visit a doctor if symptoms worsen or last for more than a week. People with a high risk of complications must closely observe the evolution of the illness and immediately consult a doctor if needed.

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How not to catch the flu

The annual vaccine is the most effective way of preventing the illness. This can be done by your general practitioner or pharmacist. The vaccine is recommended to all people at risk of complications, in particular people over the age of 65, pregnant women, patients with chronic illnesses, infants and premature babies up to the age of two. There is an online test available on the website, which will let you find out if the vaccine is recommended for you.

To avoid catching the flu if you are not sick or to avoid spreading it if you are, here are a few rules, which will limit the risk of spreading the virus:

• If you fall sick at work (or at school), go home.
• Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing.
• Regularly clean contact surfaces (door handles, buttons, phone…).

For further information

You can find further and more complete information on the page dedicated to the flu on the website of the Federal Office of Public Health. The RTS découverte website has a video, which explains the flu in one minute. The website will give you all the information you need about vaccines.

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