Winter is coming and while some of us are anticipating a white Christmas, we are all hoping to avoid the cold and flu bug this December. It is well-known fact that these common illnesses are often more prevalent throughout the winter months, but why exactly is this the case? Research suggests that it may simply be due to cold weather forcing us indoors, where we are closer together and the dry and unventilated air makes it easier for viruses to spread. Recent studies have also shown that the body’s defensive system doesn’t work as well in cooler temperatures. A culmination of these factors make winter a hotbed for the cold and flu but there are many tips you can put into action to prevent yourself and those around you from contracting them.
Prevent the spread
The principal method of avoiding the spread is rooted in hygiene and cleanliness:
- Wash your hands to ensure that any minuscule particles of mucus that have made themselves on to your hands are washed off and cannot spread. This stands even if you’re already ill, so as to prevent those in contact with you from catching it.
- Touch your mouth and eyes as little as possible. As diligent you are with washing your hands, it is always a good safety measure to ensure any droplets of the virus do not enter the body.
- Regularly clean susceptible surfaces. Surfaces in your home which are often being touched such as doorknobs and other handles can be abundant with virus particles.
Other preventative measures are linked to self-care and diet:
- Get a healthy amount of sleep. Studies have shown that this keeps our immune system strong thus lack of sleep can make you more prone to infection.
- Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can make mucus thicker and drier and therefore less able to cope with invading virus and bacteria. It is recommended to drink on average 8 glasses a day.
- Keep active. Winter can often make us complacent but this can work to your disadvantage. Studies have shown that a moderate amount of exercise can boost your immune system for up to 36 hours afterwards.
For the flu in particular, many will be aware of the availability of the flu vaccine. This can be provided by your local pharmacy or GP surgery for high-risk groups of individuals such as those who are 65+, those with serious medical conditions and pregnant women. For some, the illness can be life-threatening so it is recommended for these such individuals to get vaccinated.
As discussed prior, there are many proactive ways in which to prevent the spread of the cold and flu this winter but there is also much false information that floats around the stratosphere about these illnesses.
- Getting cold/wet causes the cold or flu. This is a common misconception, however only the flu or cold virus itself entering the body causes you to become ill. Studies, however, have shown that it can aggravate symptoms of a virus that has already entered your body. Consequently, staying warm can be beneficial but it is not enough alone to fight infection.
- Vitamin C intake prevents/cure a cold or flu. There is no scientific evidence to back this claim although it being a popular belief. Recent studies in 2013 have found that Vitamin C provides a very limited benefit and thus it would be more beneficial to use other measures of prevention.
- Antibiotics treat colds and flu. Antibiotics act against bacteria. Colds and flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not work against viruses and so will not treat colds and flu.