Colds and flu – know your stuff and stay healthy this winter

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Winter is here and chances are that some point in the next few months, you’ll end up with at best a bit of a sniffle, and at worst, a debilitating case of the flu. Even though these types of viral infections are so common, most of what we believe about them is wrong. The 1Life blogging team have taken a look at some of the most common myths around colds and flu, to bring you a good dose of the truth this winter.

  1. Flu is just a bad cold

Fact: Although flu and colds are both viruses, they are very different from one another. Although the early symptoms might be similar – a sore throat, chills, a runny nose – flu advances rapidly and lasts for much longer – up to two weeks, whereas colds are generally over within a week. Colds tend to stay in the throat, nose and head, while flu affects your whole body with aches. You may have no fever or only a slight one with a cold, but with flu you’ll usually have a fever of 38 degrees or higher. And while you may still feel pretty tired with a cold, it can be difficult to contemplate getting out of bed with the flu. The flu can also bring with it nausea and vomiting.

  1. The flu vaccination gives you flu

Fact: Flu vaccinations are either made with an inactivated flu virus, or with no flu virus at all. It is not possible for vaccinations made in either of these ways to infect you. You may get vaccination side-effects of localised redness and swelling, or even a low-grade fever, but these are not because you have become infected with the flu itself. There is, however, a window period of about two weeks after the vaccination before you develop the antibodies when you can still contract the flu from elsewhere – but don’t blame the vaccination.

  1. You don’t need the flu vaccination every year

Fact: Every year, the scientists who create the flu vaccination use their best guess as to the types of flu that are most likely to be prevalent in the coming winter. Your body’s immune response to the vaccination also diminishes over time. For these two reasons, to protect yourself from flu in the winter, you need a new flu vaccination every year.

  1. You can catch a cold from going outside without a coat or with wet hair

Fact: You catch colds (and the flu) from being exposed to other people who are infected with these viruses. Your body temperature has nothing to do with whether or not you catch the cold. The reason that colds and flu proliferate in winter is that people tend to spend more time indoors, close to each other, and not because the days are colder.

  1. If you get bad flu, you may need antibiotics

Fact: Antibiotics are used for treating bacterial infections. Colds and flu are viruses. One of the greatest contributors to antibiotic resistance is the use of unnecessary antibiotics, so it is really important to avoid an antibiotic unless you really need one. Don’t ask your doctor to prescribe one “just in case”. However, it is possible to develop a secondary bacterial infection because your airways are moist and inflamed from the cold or flu infection, but you should see a definite worsening in your symptoms or have an inability to shake the illness. In that case, visit a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

  1. You can catch flu from flying on an airplane

Fact: This one is actually pretty close to the truth! It’s obviously not the airplane itself that’s giving you the flu, but the fact that you are in close proximity to lots of other people that puts you at risk. If you need to fly somewhere, you probably can’t avoid it all through winter – but using saline nasal spray before the flight can support your body’s natural germ defence in a dry environment and setting the air vent above your seat to medium can help to dispel airborne viruses.

  1. There is no treatment for the flu

Fact: There is no CURE for the flu, but there are antiviral products that can help to decrease the duration of the infection and prevent secondary infections, if you catch it within the first 48 hours. These medications are available by prescription only, so you will need to see your doctor.

  1. Starve a fever, feed a cold

Fact: The rhyming cadence alone of this piece of wisdom should be enough to alert you to the fact that it is an old wives’ tale. You may not feel much like food if you have the flu, but there’s no harm in eating – and it’s probably quite a good idea to eat simple and nutritious meals to keep your energy up and your body fighting fit.

  1. Chicken soup cures the cold

 Fact: Oh, if only this were true! But the good news is that while it certainly doesn’t have any magical healing powers, chicken soup certainly relieves some of the nasal symptoms of a cold – as does any other hot liquid. Add to the fact that soup is healthy and nutritious and there’s really no reason not to have a lovely hot bowl if you’re feeling under the weather.

  1. Vitamin C will prevent you from getting a cold or flu

Fact: Despite the fact that many doctors today still recommend Vitamin C to help keep colds and flu at bay, there is no scientific evidence that this supplement will do anything to help you combat a cold or flu virus. There is, however, slight evidence that vitamin C might shorten the duration of a cold, but not by any significant margin. The best treatment for colds remains lots of liquids and bed rest, and the best treatment for flu is prevention – so get vaccinated.

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Till later.

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