The demand for access to hospital beds is traditionally at its peak in the first week of January, with the flu season compounding stretched resources.
A strand of flu - the Aussie flu - is currently hitting the UK.
Many have been left asking if their sniffle or dry throat is caused by it.
Colds and flu share some of the same symptoms (cough, sore throat), but are caused by different viruses.
Flu can be much more serious than a cold.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
People with flu normally feel very unwell for two or three days, and will continue to experience symptoms for around another five days. After that, you may feel tired and run down for a further two or three weeks.
The most common symptoms of flu are:
- a sudden fever (above 38°C or 100.4°F)
- runny or stuffy nose
- aching muscles
- dry cough
- sore throat
Symptoms of a cold?
Symptoms of a cold can include:
- runny or blocked nose
- sore throat
People suffering from a cold may also have a mild fever, which can make a cold easy to confuse with flu.
Flu symptoms usually develop very quickly, whereas the symptoms of a cold usually develop over one or two days.
How do they both develop?
A cold develops gradually over one or two days and you're most contagious during the early stages when you have a runny nose and sore throat.
You should begin to feel better after a few days but some colds can last up to two weeks.
Flu usually comes on much more quickly than a cold, and symptoms appear one to three days after infection.
You should begin to feel better within a week or so, but you may feel tired for much longer.
Who is at risk?
You may be more at risk of serious complications, such as pneumoniaand bronchitis if you:
- are over 65
- have serious heart or chest complaints, including asthma
- have serious kidney disease or liver disease
- have diabetes
- have lowered immunity
- had a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
How are they treated?
You can treat the symptoms of flu by taking:
- paracetamol to lower your fever
- ibuprofen for muscle aches
- cough syrup if you have a cough
- a decongestant if you have a blocked nose
Resting and taking care of yourself are usually enough to cure a cold. You should:
- drink plenty of fluids
- rest your body
- eat healthily
You can treat the symptoms of a cold to help you feel better, but this will not make you recover sooner.
- take cough syrup or throat lozenges
- take painkillers such as ibuprofen, paracetamol or aspirin
- gargle salt water, which may help ease a sore throat and nasal congestion
- take decongestants to help with a blocked nose. These can either be taken orally or as a spray in your nose.