Beat the flu this winter
Gabrielle Nathan discovers 10 simple ways to avoid the flu
Winter has well and truly arrived and with it comes seasonal flu, the virus that infects the lungs and upper airways and causes symptoms including fever, aches and pains. The good news is that, although it’s easily spread, the flu virus can be avoided by making some simple lifestyle changes that will help keep you sniffle-free all season.
1. Wash your hands regularly
“Washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways to help prevent catching flu”, says Dr Michael Dixon, GP and Chairman of NHS Alliance. That’s because the flu virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone coughs or sneezes. These droplets spread about one metre (3ft) and then land on surfaces, where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours. Touching these surfaces, which can include door handles, remote controls, computer keyboards and telephones, can spread the virus and cause infection. “People usually become infected by picking up the virus on their hands from contaminated objects and then placing their hands near their mouth, eyes or nose”, explains Dr Dixon, who recommends cleaning your hands thoroughly, including under your nails and between your fingers, with warm soap and water. “And, if you’re out and about, carry an antiseptic hand sanitizer with you so you can keep your hands clean on the go.
2. Get a flu jab
“Flu vaccines that protect you against seasonal flu strains and swine flu are very effective and last at least six months”, explains Adrian Price, Superintendent Pharmacist at Tesco. Flu jabs are free on the NHS to patients over 65 and people in high-risk groups, such as those suffering from chronic illnesses. However, “if you’re not eligible for free NHS treatment but are over 18 and not pregnant or breastfeeding, you could still get a flu vaccination by making an appointment at a Tesco pharmacy, many of which are open until late”, says Price. Vaccinations are given by a trained pharmacist and cost £10. For more information and to find your nearest Tesco pharmacy, visit www.tesco.com.
“The flu virus can’t get through our skin but it does enter the body through the moist linings of the mouth, nose and eyes”, explains Dr Knut Schroeder, GP and author of Diagnosing Your Health Symptoms For Dummies, £16.99, Wiley. “Avoiding touching these areas with unwashed hands is the most an effective way to avoid contracting the flu”, advises Dr Schroeder. However, it’s also possible to breathe in the virus if it is suspended in airborne droplets. “To improve your body’s defences, it’s important to lubricate the delicate linings of your nose and throat from the inside out, helping make them more resistant to infection”, says Dr Schroeder. Hot drinks including coffee and tea all count towards the recommended two litres a day, so get sipping.
4.Use Flower Power/Take an alternative approach
“I often recommend herbal medicines to my patients and have found Pelargonium to be extremely useful as, unlike antibiotics, it’s been shown to have anti-viral as well as anti-bacterial properties and may help improve the patient's own immune function”, says Dr Michael Dixon. Try taking Kaloba, £7.99 for 20ml, www.kaloba.com, which contains a standardised dose of Pelargonium root extract, at the first sign of symptoms.
A good night’s sleep isn’t just good for your looks, it can also help you stay flu-free. That’s because getting less than seven hour’s sleep in the weeks before exposure to a cold virus can make you three times more likely to develop a respiratory illness than if you’d clocked eight hours or more each night, according to a study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It’s probably because even minor sleep deprivation can suppress immune function, making you more likely to succumb to viral attacks. So make sure you get your beauty sleep every night this winter.
6. Eat well
“A healthy, balanced diet including protein and plenty of different-coloured fruit and vegetables will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to fight an infection”, says Laura Street, Tesco nutritionist. “Foods containing vitamins and minerals that have protective properties will help your immune system defend your body from viruses so aim for five portions (a handful) of any fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit or vegetables, except potatoes”, she advises.
7. Exercise often
You might not feel like exercising in cold weather but keeping fit could also keep you from developing the flu. A University of South Carolina study found that people who walked or did other moderate activity for half an hour most days averaged one cold per year, while less active people reported more than four colds per year. But gym bunnies beware! Strenuous exercise, such as marathon training, could actually increase your risk of catching a virus, most likely because it puts your body's immune system under considerable stress, making you more susceptible to viral infections.
8. Take a daily dose of vitamin C
“Research suggests that viruses can’t survive in cells containing high levels of vitamin C so adults should aim to have at least 40mg a day although levels of up to one gram a day are safe”, recommends Laura Street. “A 150ml glass of orange juice will give you 55mg and count towards your 5-a-day but, if you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough Vitamin C or any other vitamins or minerals, see your pharmacist, who will advise you on the best multivitamin to take to bolster your immunity this season.”
9. Avoid people with coughs and colds/Stay away from sneezers
“Try not to hug or kiss people who have the flu or flu-like symptoms, even if they are standing under the mistletoe”, warns Dr Schroeder. “If someone coughs or sneezes near you, try to avert your head or stand back to avoid inhaling their germs or, if you can’t move away, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue”, he advises. “The flu virus is carried and transmitted by droplets in nasal secretions so avoiding these droplets is imperative if you want to avoid catching the flu”, he maintains.
10. Chill out/Steer clear of stress/Stress Less
It’s no surprise that prolonged periods of stress can lower immunity and make you more prone to catching flu. John Tudor, a microbiologist and professor of biology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, US believes high levels of stress weakens your immunity to the flu and that chilling out is part of the secret of not only avoiding the flu but also, if you do succumb, helping you recover more quickly. He says, "infected people who are stressed may also experience more severe symptoms". Try yoga, deep breathing or a long soak in a warming bath and try not to worry too much this winter.
Do you have a great tip on how to avoid the flu? Share your ideas with other Tesco Magazine readers in the comments box below.