Winter is on its inevitable way and with it, no doubt, the latest round of unpleasant bugs and ailments.
While there’s still no cure for the common cold or the various influenzas and viruses that come our way every year, there are a number of measures and precautions that can be taken to help prevent them or lessen their impact, according to local health professionals.
Many of these are surprisingly simple – things our parents or grandparents might have done automatically, but maybe get forgotten in today’s hectic, hi-tech, consumerist world.
Dr Kate Baddock, a GP at Warkworth Medical Centre, says the most important thing to do to prevent winter ills is something very basic – stay warm.
“Staying warm is a large part of staying well,” she says. “You want your house to be warm and dry, with insulation – even if that’s just those sausage dogs to stop draughts if that’s all you’ve got – and ensure your windows close properly.
“Sometimes you have to heat yourself as well as, or instead of your house. Our grandparents had rugs over their knees for a reason. If you can’t afford heating then put a woollen scarf on, wear a shawl. It’s really important.”
Pharmacist Brendon Hart of Lee & Hart in Warkworth agrees that people need to be better prepared for the colder weather.
“Changes in the season always seem to catch people out,” he says. “You do need to dress appropriately.”
He also stresses the importance of drinking enough water and staying hydrated.
“People often need hydration. You should also take moderate exercise, try to keep stress levels at a reasonable level, get your sleep and watch your alcohol intake.”
Getting a flu vaccination is vital for most people, according to Dr Baddock, especially those who are in contact with the public, like teachers, shop staff, health workers and hospitality employees, and the sooner the better.
“It’s not a matter of just saying, ‘I never get the flu’, and ignoring it,” she says. “You have to ask yourself, ‘How good is my body at fighting infection these days?’”
The vaccine is free for anyone over 65, and for many others with certain medical conditions, including chronic heart problems, kidney disease, diabetes, some cancers and lung problems. Otherwise, it is partially funded and costs around $20.
“The only people we admit to hospital over winter with complications from flu are people who have not been vaccinated,” says Dr Baddock. “You may still get flu, you may even get complications, but they are never as severe as they would have been without the vaccination.”
The other important thing is to maintain levels of important vitamins and minerals with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Brendon Hart also recommends some herbal formulas to help boost and enhance the immune system, including Echinacea, black elderberry or andrographis.
“A lot of conventional medicines are good for symptom relief,” he says. “But a lot of them don’t work for enhancing the immune system. Different things do different jobs. Probiotics can be good, too … if your digestion is right, your immune system is more ready.”
The final piece of advice is one that your mum probably gave you – always cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, stay at arm’s length from people and always keep your hands clean.
“Most viruses are airborne, which means that people cough and splutter over you, so the ‘one-metre rule’ is worth remembering,” says Dr Baddock. “Some viruses do go onto hard surfaces – hand rails, escalators, Eftpos machine buttons – and that’s where hand washing and hand sanitisers can be also incredibly effective.”