Some use­ful ad­vice to help you avoid the dreaded flu this win­ter

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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.

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