Colds and Flu

There are over 200 different cold viruses and it’s likely that most of us will catch at least one or two colds every year. A dry, scratchy sore throat is often the first sign followed by a runny nose, fatigue and a loss of appetite.

Flu, on the other hand, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by the influenza virus and each year up to 15 per cent of us will catch flu. Unlike a cold, the symptoms start suddenly and are more severe – high fever, extreme fatigue and aches are all common traits.

Colds and flu are highly contagious. The virus is airborne, so every time a sufferer coughs, sneezes or talks, germs are spread. The virus can also be transferred by hand contact, so it’s important to wash your hands regularly.

How can I reduce my chances of catching colds and flu?

There are many ways of helping yourself here; eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – these are great for boosting your immune system. A portion of fruit includes one medium-sized whole fruit or three smaller fruits, for example satsumas or dried apricots. Keep bugs at bay by eating plenty of garlic and onions - known for their antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties these can help fight infections. And, if you don’t like it in its natural form, garlic is also available as a supplement – ask your pharmacist for more information.

Drink lots of water, especially if you spend a lot of time in centrally heated spaces. Not only will it keep your body hydrated, but it will also help to flush out toxins. Try to drink at least 1.2 litres of water per day. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink - too much can lead to vitamin deficiencies, which can affect your immune system and your ability to fight infection.

Get enough sleep – it’s the body’s natural way of recharging its batteries. So, if you start to feel under the weather, help your body to recover by getting a good nights’ sleep!

Try drinking green tea. This is one of the richest sources of antioxidants, so it’s great for helping you to beat those winter bugs and giving your immune system a boost. When your body is under stress you are more susceptible to the viral infections that cause coughs, colds and flu, so keep calm and stay healthy.

Remember that the cold virus is often carried on the hands and then enters your body through your eyes, nose or mouth. So, minimise the risk of catching a cold by washing your hands regularly. To get rid of germs, rub your hands together vigorously with lots of soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds.

Exercise is also the perfect way to give your immune system a boost. Researchers found that cold symptoms lasted half as long in women who walked for 45 minutes per day, five days a week, as they did in sedentary women.

Finally, think about getting an annual flu jab – it can protect you from contracting the flu virus.

Cold and flu – facts

FACT: Antibiotics are only suitable for the treatment of bacterial infections and do not work on viruses such as those that cause colds and flu. You will only be prescribed antibiotics if the cold turns into a secondary infection such as a chest infection.

FACT: You’re most likely to be infected with a cold by touching a door handle, tea towel, or a handrail on the bus that’s been contaminated by the virus. Shaking hands also passes on germs. Once your fingers have been contaminated and you rub your eyes or nose, the virus will invade your body. However, with flu, people can become ill if they breathe in droplets containing the influenza virus that have been sneezed or coughed into the air.

FACT: Never starve yourself if you have a cold or flu. Nutritious hot drinks and soups (rather than solids) are what you need. Hot liquids increase the temperature in the nose and mouth and help kill viruses off more quickly

FACT: There are around 200 cold viruses and, on average, we catch a couple each winter. However, once the cold ends, your body has built up immunity which will protect you from catching the same virus again.

FACT: Gentle exercise and fresh air are likely to speed your recovery from a cold. But if you come down with flu, go to bed! Rest is essential to help you get better.

Remember - there is no miracle cure for a cold or flu. Once you have caught the flu virus, rest; eat well and drink fluids to boost your hydration levels and speed up recovery from infection.