Catch It, Bin It, Kill It!

Catch It, Bin It, Kill It!

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How long do colds and flu last?

Severity of the symptoms and length of the infection depends on the individual. The temperature you get with flu usually goes down within 48 hours.

The worst flu or cold symptoms will be over in 4-5 days but complete recovery can take up to 10 days, and sometimes longer. There is no ‘cure’ but you can treat the symptoms with some practical self help measures and over the counter medicines.

Your pharmacist can advise you on what is best for you.

Day 1-2

If you have flu this is the time when you will have a high temperature and symptoms that come on quickly. You will be shivering with a headache, muscle aches in the back and legs and you may feel dizzy. The high temperature should go down within 48 hours.

If you have a cold, this is the incubation stage and there are no symptoms to tell you that you have been infected.

What’s happening to your body?

A good sneeze can travel the length of a bus or tube carriage and you have inhaled infected droplets. The virus has got past your body’s first line of defence – the hairs and mucus in the nose, which traps them – or you have introduced them by touching your nose or eyes after being in contact with someone with a cold or flu. The virus is taking over your cells and using them to reproduce by the million.

What you can do?

Get plenty of rest, preferably in bed. Drink plenty of fluids. You could take paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce your temperature and ease aches and pains.

Day 2-3

If you have flu your temperature should be dropping now and from here on your symptoms will be similar to those you get with colds.

If you have a cold, the first signs appear on day 2 with a tickle or soreness in the nose and/or throat and sometimes in the eyes.
The sore throat gets worse and a dry cough might start. You start sneezing and your nose starts to run.

Usually with a cold adults do not get a high temperature, although children may do.

What’s happening to your body?

Cells in the nose and throat release chemicals to defend you against the virus. These chemicals irritate the cells and cause
itchiness and soreness and make you sneeze. By now a large number of cells have been killed off by the virus and the nose
produces a watery mucus to wash them out. Mounting the counter-attack against the virus takes a lot out of you, and you will feel tired and unwell.

What you can do?

It’s probably best to stay at home to avoid spreading your cold to others. Take it easy and rest if possible. Keep warm, and keep the atmosphere moist. Drink plenty of fluids, as you will lose a lot through mucus production and possibly perspiration. You could take paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce your temperature. If your throat is very sore take a cough lozenge or use a spray. Avoid smoking, as it will further irritate the throat and the lining of the nose.

Day 3-5

The discharge from the nose may change from clear and watery to thicker and yellowish in colour. Your nose starts to feel very stuffy and blocked up, and you might get pain in the forehead and around and behind the eyes. If the infection is a really nasty one adults may still have a slight fever.

What’s happening to your body?

Catarrh is a mixture of mucus and white blood cells produced to fight off infections. It drips down the nasal passage into the nose causing a phlegmy, chesty cough as the body tries to get rid of the catarrh. The tissues in the windpipe also get congested, so that air passes through less easily and you could become wheezy.

What you can do?

Continue with the fluids. You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you still have a temperature. Use steam inhalations to liquefy mucus in the nose and chest and help get rid of it.

A cough is a normal function of the body as it tries to get rid of phlegm. It can be relieved with a cool drink but if it continues to be troublesome, a range of cough mixtures are available. Sleep with your head on a high pillow if your nose is stuffed up at night.

Day 5–14+ Symptoms usually start to subside.

What’s happening to your body?

The virus has been defeated. It is now just a matter of time until things get back to normal. But it may be a couple of weeks until the catarrh has all gone, the coughing stops and the swollen tissues in the nose and chest shrink down again.

What you can do?

Go back to your normal activities. Keep on with medication if you need to until the symptoms have gone completely.

If you would like to learn more about infection control, visit our Infection Control course here.

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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