It's the nasty ‘knock you for six’ virus that infects the lungs and upper airways and causes symptoms including fever, aches and pains. But when it comes to flu, the good news is that, although it’s easily spread, it can also be avoided. Here’s how…
1. Wash your hands regularly
When someone with flu coughs or sneezes, germy droplets spread over a one-metre radius – and can survive for up to 24 hours on door handles, remote controls, computer keyboards and telephones, making the virus easy to pick up.
Dr Michael Dixon, GP and Chairman of NHS Alliance, recommends cleaning your hands often and 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 for cleaning hands on the go.”
2. Get a flu jab
“Flu vaccines 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.
“If you’re not eligible for free NHS treatment but are 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 £9 for eligible customers over 12. For details to find your nearest Tesco Pharmacy, visit www.tesco.com.
3. Stay hydrated
“To improve your body’s defences, it’s important to lubricate the delicate linings of your nose and throat from the inside out, keeping them more resistant to infection”, says Dr Knut Schroeder, GP and author of Diagnosing Your Health Symptoms For Dummies. Aim for the recommended two litres a day and avoid dehydrating caffeine.
4. Take an alternative approach
“I often recommend herbal medicines to my patients,” says Dr Dixon. “Pelargonium is extremely useful as, unlike antibiotics, it’s been shown to have anti-viral as well as anti-bacterial properties and may improve the patient's own immune function.”
Try taking Kaloba drops, available from schwabepharma.co.uk at the first sign of symptoms.
5. Sleep well
A good night’s sleep isn’t just a beauty treatment – it can help you stay flu-free too. Getting less than seven hours’ 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.
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 get stuck into your five a day!
7. Exercise often
A University of South Carolina study found that people who exercised to moderate levels 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, which puts your immune system under stress, such as marathon training, could increase your risk of catching a virus.
8. Take a daily dose of vitamin C
“Research suggests 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 provides 55mg of vitamin C, but also lots of sugar. Ask your pharmacist for advice on the best multivit to bolster your immune system.
9. Steer clear of stress
Prolonged periods of stress can make you more prone to catching flu. John Tudor, a microbiologist and professor of biology at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia believes high stress levels weaken your immunity to flu and give you worse symptoms if you catch it. Try yoga, deep breathing and meditation or a regular, long soak in a warming bath to stay calm.
10. Stay away from sneezers
“Try not to hug or kiss people who have the flu or flu-like symptoms”, warns Dr Schroeder. “If someone coughs or sneezes near you, 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.
Words: Gabrielle Nathan