What to do with colds and 'flu - factsheet

June 2019
This resource relates to the following topics:

A4 factsheet offering information on what to do if someone thinks they have a cold or flu-like illness


June 2019
Leaflet A4
PDF download
HE code

The full resource:

This is a new resource for health professionals to advise the public on what to do with colds and ‘flu. The content has been through widespread consultation and has been updated to reflect the situation this year with COVID-19. The aim of the resource is to support people who need to care for themselves at home to do so effectively, and encourage those who need to see a doctor to reach out when it’s needed.

The resource can be emailed or printed out and given to clients as required.

The double-sided factsheet may be printed as a tear-off pad at a later date. The trifold brochure may in future be translated and produced in hard copy. We welcome your views on future formats.


Got a cold or flu?

Find out what to do

Cold and flu symptoms are similar, but flu-like illnesses are usually more severe.

Signs and symptoms Cold  Flu-like illness
Symptom onset Gradual Often sudden
Fever and chills Uncommon Usual
Head and body aches Uncommon Usual
Fatigue, extreme tiredness Uncommon Usual
Sore throat Common Sometimes
Cough Sometimes Common
Sneezing Common Uncommon


Symptoms of COVID-19 can be similar to a cold or flu and range from mild to severe. See covid19.govt.nz for advice or phone Healthline’s COVID-19 line on 0800 358 5453.

You can treat most colds and flu-like illnesses with rest and self-care at home, but you need to know when to seek medical help.

When to seek advice

Contact your medical clinic for advice if you:

  • are not getting better
  • are pregnant
  • have diabetes or a health condition affecting your breathing, heart or immune system
  • are aged 65 or older
  • have a sore throat and are Māori or Pasifika aged 3 to 35 years
  • are concerned or not sure what to do.

Phone first if you might have a highly infectious bug like Covid-19.

Not sure what to do? Phone Healthline free on 0800 611 116 for health advice anytime

When to seek immediate medical help

If you have any of the following signs you may be seriously unwell and need emergency care:

  • difficult or painful breathing
  • bluish lips or tongue
  • chest pain
  • coughing up blood
  • severe shaking, rigors
  • confusion or difficult to wake
  • stiff neck
  • rash with purple or red spots or bruises
  • clammy skin
  • not urinating or dark coloured pee.

Phone 111 or go to the hospital emergency department right now. Do not delay.

Self-care for colds and flus

  • Rest – at home if possible so you don’t spread bugs.
  • Drink plenty of water, warm lemon and honey drinks or soups to avoid dehydration.
  • Sore throat? Suck a teaspoon of honey or gargle salt water. Adults can also try a medicated lozenge, gargle or throat spray. Note honey is not safe for children under one year.
  • Blocked or runny nose? Ask your pharmacist about decongestants and nasal sprays.
  • Cough? Sip a lemon and honey drink or ask your pharmacist about cough  lozenges or mixtures that may be suitable for you.
  • Aches and pains? Try paracetamol OR cold and flu medicines (adults only) from your pharmacy. (Check with your doctor or pharmacist if these are suitable for you.)

Avoid antibiotics – they can’t cure colds, flus or most coughs as these are caused by viruses.

Avoid spreading and catching bugs

  • Take care of your health and protect your whānau and community
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds and dry them well
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Avoid touching your face with unclean hands
  • Don’t share personal items such as cups, food utensils or towels
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often, like doorknobs
  • Stay home if you are sick and avoid close contact with others
  • Keep coughs away from other people

Keep well this winter

  • Get the flu vaccine each year – it might be free for you.
  • Keep your immune system strong: be active, eat healthy food, be smoke-free and get plenty of sleep.
  • Stay warm – heat your home to at least 18°C.
  • Quit smoking – smokers get more colds, symptoms are worse and they last longer.

More information: hn.org.nz/w20