Some useful advice to help you avoid the dreaded flu this winter
Winter is coming and with it, the promise of the flu season. For people who catch a cold, it represents nothing more than a moderate inconvenience, feeling dreadful and sipping endless cups of tea and Lemsip.
But the flu is not to be underestimated. It can be dangerous, especially if you are elderly or have diabetes, heart disease, asthma or a condition that compromises your immune system.
The trick is not to catch flu in the first place.
The single most effective course of action you can take is to have the flu jab.
You should arrange to have it as soon as possible, preferably in early autumn. But you can have it up to spring next year.
You need to refresh your vaccination every year because the prevalent flu strains are constantly evolving.
After vaccination you may still catch flu strains, but the infection is likely to be less severe.
The vaccine is free on the NHS to anyone over 65 and primary school children in England and Wales. Additionally, the vaccine is accessible for pregnant women, anybody with a BMI of 40 or above, and anyone with a serious underlying health condition or a compromised immune system.
I am asked often how it is that I am in regular contact with all manner of nasty bugs and yet do not seem to be ill very often. There is no mystery. I wash my hands a lot! In fact, I do so before any contact with a patient or before I consider eating or even drinking a cup of coffee.
Soap, warm water, and thorough rubbing for at least 20 seconds will wash virtually all bacteria and viruses on your hands down the drain. The soap does not need to be antibacterial, normal household soap works as well.
Rinse your hands and pat them dry on paper towels which you then discard.
Do this every time you sneeze or cough and especially before meals. Those portable alcohol-based hand sanitisers are good when you are out and want to grab a sandwich.
How many doors, surfaces, handles do you touch when you nip from work for a hot drink, and how many other people have touched them?
It’s all too easy to catch flu. When someone nearby coughs or sneezes, an aerosol cloud of virus-laden droplets is projected up to four feet away where it hangs waiting to come into contact with your mouth, eyes or nose.
If you need to cough or sneeze, always use a disposable tissue. If you haven’t got one to hand, cough into your sleeve in the crook of your arm.
Whichever way you do it, immediately wash your hands or use a sanitiser. By doing so, you are keeping viruses off your hands and therefore other people.
You can easily pick up flu from touching a surface where a previous customer before you has been coughing or sneezing. The flu virus can linger on surfaces for 24 hours.
When you touch a contaminated surface and inadvertently touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you introduce a massive viral load directly into your body. Consider bringing along disinfectant wipes to clean any surfaces you’re about to touch.
Don’t share cups, plates or cutlery, and be sure to wash anything you do use in the dishwasher or sink with hot water and washing up liquid.
Antibacterial washing up liquid is not necessary. Keep your toothbrush away from any communal holder, and make sure anybody who is ill has their own pillow and bedding.
If you have been in an environment where there has been coughing and sneezing, consider taking a shower and discarding your contaminated clothing.
Try to avoid crowded public places. In fact, the top of that list should be your A&E or GP waiting room, which are crammed to the brim with the aggressively infectious.
If you feel ill and suspect you have caught a cold or the flu, do not go into work. Only seek a medical opinion if you are having trouble breathing or develop a high fever that will not respond to paracetamol and ibuprofen.
A simple brisk walk brings about a quantifiable boost to your immune system, sending your defender white blood cells on a vigorous trek around the body to destroy viruses.
A report from the Ramblers Association and Macmillan Cancer Support found that if everyone in England regularly walked for half an hour a day, it could save 37,000 lives a year.
For those aged over 40, cycling and swimming are great forms of low-impact exercise that don’t require high fitness levels. You could cycle for 20-30 minutes a day or visit your local pool every morning to swim 30 lengths. Whatever it is, you can increase your health and fitness by building a simple workout routine into your life.
Individuals who exercise four to five times a week are less likely to catch the flu.
Once you have flu, all I would recommend is bed rest, plenty of fluids, paracetamol or ibuprofen, and a balanced, nutritious diet. Eating too little protein can weaken the immune system. I would recommend a diet rich in protein to help avoid the flu, especially fish, eggs, nuts and yoghurt.
Bedtime is when you repair and recharge your body, and getting enough sleep is a good habit to develop to best avoid catching flu and fighting it off effectively if you do suffer. The average adult needs between six and eight hours of sleep to keep their immunity fighting fit.
If you do come down with the flu, look out for your friends, family and colleagues. You are infectious for up to a week. Stay home until you have recovered and your temperature is within normal limits, without medication, for at least 24 hours.