Occupational Health Service

Colds and flu

General guidance on colds and flu. Please note this page does not specifically refer to any pandemic flu situations, however, the basic hygiene advice should be adhered to in any cold/flu environment.

Flu Vaccines

The Occupational Health Service continue promoting this year's NHS flu campaign. More than ever, the flu vaccine is a key intervention to reduce pressure on the NHS, and protect the most vulnerable in our population, ensuring that the impact of potential co-circulation of flu and Covid-19 is kept to an absolute minimum. All those who are eligible are being urged to take up the offer as soon as possible when invited to protect themselves and others, and help the NHS and social care services avoid additional pressure over the winter period.

Please refer to the following advice from NHS Inform: The flu vaccine (nhsinform.scot)


Starting from mid-October, people aged 50 years old or over (including those who will be 50 years old by 31 March 2023) can have a free NHS flu vaccine. This is so at-risk groups can be offered vaccination first

  • are 65 and over (including those who will be 65 by 31 March 2023)
  • have certain health conditions
  • are pregnant
  • are in long-stay residential care
  • receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
  • live with someone who is more likely to get a severe infection due to a weakened immune system, such as someone living with HIV, someone who has had a transplant, or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • are frontline health workers
  • are social care workers who cannot get the vaccine through an occupational health scheme at work

General information

Colds and flu occur throughout the year, but do appear to be more common in the winter months. Colds and flu are caused by viruses which are easily spread, either by breathing in the virus from others when they cough or sneeze, or by touching a surface where the virus has settled, then transferring the virus to our eyes, nose or mouth.

The main symptoms of a cold are sneezing, a sore throat and a blocked or runny nose. This may be accompanied by a high temperature, tiredness and/ or headaches. The flu is more severe than a cold and symptoms develop more quickly and usually include a fever, severe aches and pains, and exhaustion.

The best way to fight infection is to have a healthy lifestyle, eat a healthy diet, including five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, take regular exercise, get plenty of rest and follow good standards of hygiene.

How to avoid colds and flu

There are a number of steps you can take to minimise your risk of catching colds and flu:

How to avoid colds and flu table

Treatment for colds and flu

Colds and flu can normally be treated at home. Antibiotics aren't prescribed for colds and flu, as they don't work against viruses.

The symptoms of a cold usually begin 2-3 days after you become infected, and last for 2-14 days. Most people recover from a cold within a week. You are most contagious when you have the sneezing, runny nose and cough that are the first signs of a cold developing.

Flu is more severe than a cold and symptoms develop more quickly and usually include a fever, severe aches and pains, and exhaustion. While recovery from the common cold usually occurs within a week, the severe stage of flu usually lasts 3 - 5 days. It can then be followed by up to three weeks of post-viral fatigue (tiredness). If symptoms persist for longer than a week or become very severe, seek medical advice.

  • drink plenty of fluids (water and warm drinks, but avoid alcohol)
  • rest, and avoid strenuous activity
  • keep warm
  • avoid smoke filled environments
  • over the counter cough medicines, sprays or lozenges may help dry or tickly coughs*
  • over the counter medicines may help ease aches and pains*
  • over the counter decongestants may help a stuffy nose and sinus pain / congestion*

* If you are taking over-the-counter medicines, it is important to check with your pharmacist that they will not interact with other medicines you are currently taking. In particular, always check the packaging or enclosed patient information leaflet to make sure you don’t take more than the recommended dose. Some medicines may cause drowsiness. If you’re unsure, always ask your pharmacist or call NHS 24 for advice.

If you have severe pains, chest pains, difficulty breathing or your symptoms last in excess of 2 weeks you should seek medical assistance.

The above information was extracted primarily from NHS Direct. For further information, see links below in further guidance.

 Flu - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Common cold - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

This article was published on 28.09.22