Although you can catch influenza - or flu - all-year round, it is most commonly experienced in the winter months.
Flu is a contagious virus, so it’s spread from one person to another. Knowing how to limit your chances of getting the illness - or stop from passing it on - is extremely useful.
How does flu spread between people?
The flu virus is carried via respiratory droplets, so if you think someone has it, you should avoid kissing them; touching them and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes; or being in close proximity to them when they're sneezing or coughing.
That last point can be especially tricky if the person with the illness isn't covering their mouth. But it's really important for those who have flu to do this. Research carried out in the US by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the germs from a sneeze travel in gas clouds, staying in the air long enough to be picked up by ventilation systems.
How long does flu last?
The UK government advises that flu symptoms will peak after two to three days, although you may still feel the effects of the virus for between two and three weeks after this.
As a result, it's best to stay cautious when it comes to thinking about what you're doing to limit the chances of passing it on to someone else.
According to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, an adult can pass on the virus one day before symptoms first present themselves and up to one week after they become sick. Children can remain contagious for even longer, for up to several weeks in some cases.
Lingering symptoms include coughing and feeling more tired than usual, so be wary until you're sure the illness is out of your system.
Can flu be spread by touch?
As well as catching the virus directly from a person, you are also at risk of contamination if you come into contact with objects that have been touched by a flu patient.
With this in mind, if you know someone who is ill, it is important to regularly wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitiser to neutralise any bacteria you might have picked up.
Typical items you might touch without realising they are infected include:
- door handles
If you are living with someone who has the flu, their bed linen should be washed regularly, while they should make sure any used tissues are thrown in the bin as soon as possible.
Good hygiene is key to preventing the spread of flu, so there's no excuse for bad habits if you're feeling poorly - it could result in passing your illness onto others.