cases. There are also far fewer people dying from influenza, with a quarter the number of deaths compared to last year. As for the common cold? In the first half of winter there’s been less of that too, and the amazing success for cold and flu rates is all down to two major factors. Firstly, it’s how we have dealt with COVID-19. Because Australia closed its borders early, there was a dramatically reduced number of influenza and cold cases entering the country before winter. And a significant proportion of Aussies listened to expert advice by practising social distancing and good personal hygiene, both of which are imperative in stopping the transmission of not just COVID-19, but also colds and flus. Employers also realised the “soldier on” mentality can be counterproductive. Viruses spread like wildfire in the close confines of workplaces, so work-fromhome strategies, combined with cultural shifts that encourage staff to present early and stay at home when they’re unwell, have played a massive role in reducing transmission rates. The second major factor is the flu shot. This year has seen record numbers turning up for vaccinations. Despite our early success, though, my prediction for the back end of winter is that we’re in for a rough trot – and it’s already started. More families are coming into medical centres with the common cold and the detection of other cold viruses, such as rhinovirus, is increasing across the community. And this is because we’ve started mingling again – at school, at the café and at our workplaces, no doubt with some increased and pent-up excitement after three months of being locked down. Which means now is the time to prepare. We know the simple strategies we’ve adopted during COVID-19 work, so to avoid picking up any of the common winter viruses, remember to wash your hands, keep your distance from others, stay away from crowds and stay home when you’re sick. Lastly, you’ve got to keep playing by the rules and line up for a flu shot if you haven’t already. If you don’t, the situation could change dramatically. Probiotics and echinacea There’s some lowquality data to suggest a daily dose of each probably does decrease your chances of getting a cold. Exercise Trends from medical research indicate regular exercise is protective against getting colds and flus every winter. PROVEN FIX OR SNAKE OIL? Vitamin C People who take vitamin C every day suffer shorter cold illnesses by about eight per cent. Many would argue that’s a significant difference, but you have to be taking it every day and start well before any cold kicks in. Dr Sam Hay fact-checks some common cold and flu remedies Vitamin E and garlic There’s just no evidence either of these work to ward off colds or flus. 11 V1 - MHSE01Z01BS
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