Winter is almost here and the short, gloomy days can really take their toll on our mood and health. It also means that flu season has arrived – and it is a fact of life.
There have been many theories around why so many people come down with flu during winter – including a weakened immune system due to less sunlight and running low on Vitamin D – but the answer appears to be in the way germs pass between people.
In winter we spend more time indoors which means we are in closer contact with other people who may be carrying germs. But flu is not something to be sneezed at and worldwide up to five million people get seriously ill during the ‘flu season’ and around a quarter of a million die from it, so it makes sense to take the necessary precautions to stay well this season.
What exactly is flu?
Flu is a viral infection that targets your head and chest. You’ll have a runny or stuffy nose (sometimes both in the same day), watery eyes, probably a sore throat and perhaps a cough. Your body will hurt, you’ll be tired, and you’ll probably run a fever.
How do you know you have flu?
You may experience some of these symptoms:
- A high fever (higher than 39°C) with chills
- Dry cough or sore throat
- Blocked nose or nasal discharge
- Sweating and shivering
- Muscle aches and pains, especially in the legs
- Fatigue and wanting to sleep all day
And a cold?
Colds are viruses too. According to the Mayo Clinic there are more than 100 viruses that cause colds. Like flu, colds hit the respiratory system causing a runny or stuffed up nose, watery eyes, perhaps a sore throat and sometimes a cough. You might also get a low fever.
Unlike the flu, colds come on slowly. Most people can feel themselves getting sick at least a day in advance.
Remember taking antibiotics when you have a virus will not help and in some cases do more harm than good. Antibiotics only work on a bacterial infection and if you take them when they are not needed your risk of developing an infection that is antibiotic resistant is increased.
A bacterial infection
A bacterial infection may develop following infection with viral influenza which is when an antibiotic can be taken. Signs of a bacterial infection include: sinus, earache, a sore throat and a cough that lasts longer than 7-10 days.
Get a flu shot
A flu vaccine is the first line of defence when it comes to protecting yourself. Studies show that the vaccine reduces the risk of flu by about 50 to 60%.