Cold and flu season can be a challenging time of the year. The common cold is
unpleasant, but flu tends to be significantly worse, and in some cases can be dangerous.
Thankfully, most of us are learning
to be more aware of the way that viruses are circulated. As a community, it’s
very important that we learn how to minimise the spread of infections — not
only to protect ourselves and our families but also other people who are
particularly vulnerable to complications.
While a lot of the advice that is
shared is common sense, we also see misinformation spread through things like
social media. This can be confusing, as some advice may be conflicting, or you
may feel unsure about where your efforts are best directed.
To clear things up, here are some
steps that you can take during cold and flu season to reduce your chances of
catching the flu:
Get the annual flu vaccination
The most proactive and effective
way to prevent catching the flu is to get an annual flu vaccination.
Every year, a new influenza vaccine
is developed. This is because the viruses that are responsible for seasonal flu
epidemics change from year to year, so the vaccine is created to target the
specific viruses that are expected for that year. It’s important to remember
that last years influenza vaccine will not protect you from the flu this year.
If you’ve heard a myth
about the flu vaccine — for example, that it can give you the flu, that it
doesn’t work, or that pregnant women shouldn’t get vaccinated — you can rest assured that these are false.
For most people, the flu vaccine is safe and effective. If you’re over the age
of 65, speak to your pharmacist about which vaccine is appropriate for you.
One of the best things about the
flu vaccine is that it’s quick and easy to get. Simply visit your local Capital
Chemist — there’s no booking required, and often there’s no waiting time at
Keep your hands clean
If you’ve watched the news or been
on social media over the past few months, you’re likely aware of just how
important it is to properly wash your hands.
Washing your hands is one of the
most powerful and effective ways that you can protect yourself from catching an
infectious disease like the flu. Washing your hands with soap and water for 20
seconds kills bacteria and viruses and removes them from the hands, making it
less likely that you’ll contract the virus yourself, or pass it along to other
Soap works particularly well
because it helps to break down the protective coating that encases viruses and
then damages the cells, leaving them to be washed away by the water.
If you’re on the road or can’t
access a bathroom, hand sanitizer is also effective. It’s especially important
to clean your hands before eating, after using the toilet, after using public
transport, and before and after preparing food.
The reason that social distancing
is one of the key strategies for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic is that
avoiding large crowds of people is a good way to protect yourself from catching
a virus. When you maintain distance from other people, you make it less likely
that you will become infected by the moisture that’s expelled when a sick
person coughs, sneezes, talks, or even breathes.
While no one wishes to physically
distance themselves from people for the rest of their life, it may be worth
avoiding large crowds during cold and flu season. Luckily, this period of the
year tends to coincide with colder weather — so it’s the perfect time to
indulge your desire to stay warm and cozy at home.
Don’t touch your face
Remember when we told you to wash
your hands? You don’t catch a virus by simply having it on your hands — in
order for you to catch the infection, it needs to actually enter your body.
This typically happens either when we breathe in infected moisture droplets, or
when we touch our face.
It sounds simple, but not touching
your face is actually quite a challenging thing to do. One
study observed 10 subjects performing
office-type work over the course of three hours. They found that the average
number of times someone touched their face was almost 16 times per hour.
To break the habit of touching your
face, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re doing with your hands. Most
people aren’t intentionally touching their faces. It’s more likely to be a
habit that you do when you’re bored, tired, or simply thinking. Try to be more
aware of it, and set yourself reminders on your phone or using a sticky note on
your desk to help you break the habit.
Prioritize your sleep
If you’ve ever stayed up all night
studying or looking after a baby, you’ll be very aware of the effects of sleep
deprivation. Not getting enough sleep can negatively impact your ability to
think clearly and make good decisions, your body weight, mood, energy levels
and even your immune health.
One study tracked the sleep habits of 153 healthy men and women over two
weeks, and then gave them nasal drops containing a rhinovirus and monitored the
development of a clinical cold after exposure. They examined the duration of
their sleep, as well as their sleep efficiency, or the percentage of time that
they in bed and actually asleep. They found that poorer sleep efficiency and
shorter sleep duration prior to exposure were associated with lower resistance
When you think about it, it makes a
lot of sense. Sleep is the time when our body rests and recovers, and when you
don’t get enough rest, your overall health is affected, which has an impact on
your ability to fight off and recover from infection.
For more information and
to get your flu vaccination, speak to your local Capital Chemist pharmacist.