Have you ever been on the bus and seen someone sneeze into their hands and then grab onto the same hand-rail as you? Have you ever watched a friend or colleague put a used tissue on a communal table? Have you ever been at work and a colleague is sniffing and coughing and you can literally feel the germs invading your body? If you answered yes to any of these questions, or is you have done these things, here are some tips on staying healthy during cold & flu season! 

As the weather starts to get colder people are more likely to get upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs), or cold and flus. Cold weather itself isn’t the sole cause for increased illness, but during winter we tend to spend more time indoors and in close proximity with other people and so are more exposed to infection. While it is impossible to avoid getting URTIs altogether, we can take steps to reduce the risk. 

URTIs are spread by millions of invisible microbes that come from our respiratory system, known as airborne droplets. These can be visible, like saliva and phlegm, but most are completely invisible. We need to work hard to limit the spread of these germs through some simple preventative measures!

The first thing we can do is to wash our hands, a lot! This is the most common way germs spread because viruses like the cold and flu can live on surfaces and objects for a long time after they’ve left our respiratory system. If we’re sick and we don’t wash our hands, we are transferring germs to all the surfaces we touch. Similarly if we aren’t sick but are touching communal surfaces we risk getting an infection if we don’t regularly wash our hands. The easiest way to do this is to grab some travel-size hand-sanitiser to take with us at all times. 

Following on from this, we should always try to cough or sneeze into our elbow rather than our hands. We are rarely touching anything with our inner elbow, so concentrating the majority of germs to this spot means we are less likely to spread infection.

If you’re using tissues while you’re sick please dispose of them straight away! Don’t put them on any communal surfaces and wash your hands after use. Tissues and hankies are breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses if left exposed! Make sure to clean any communal surfaces that your tissues come into contact with.

Perhaps my number one tip for stopping the spread of cold and flus is to stay home if you’re sick. Sometimes it feels like we can’t miss a day of work but URTIs are incredibly contagious and it’s not worth risking the health of your colleagues. Most URTIs are healed through rest and self-care so pushing yourself into working is going to prolong your illness. A solid day or two of rest, fluids, sleep and some paracetemol if needed will do wonders for shortening the life of your cold or flu.

Finally, get the flu shot! The flu shot is an incredibly safe and affordable way to protect yourself each year. The vaccine protects against certain strains of Influenza which means you’re less likely to get sick and it also means that you are protecting vulnerable populations for whom a flu could be fatal. For more info on the Flu Vaccine check out the video or article from Hot on Health! 

Spread the word to not spread germs! I hope these tips will help you stay protected and keep yourself and others healthy. If you have any tips for avoiding URTIs during winter please comment them on the companion video on Facebook or YouTube and remember that, “There is No Healthcare Without Self-Care.” 

References/ Suggested Reading:

Better Health Channel, 2017, ‘Colds’, Better Health Channel, Victoria State Government, viewed 01 March 2017, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/colds

CDC 2017, ‘Influenza (flu)’ Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, viewed 01 March 2017: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/ 

CDC 2017, 'Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine', Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, viewed 01 March 2017: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm

healthdirect, ‘Colds and flu prevention’, Health Direct, Department of Health, viewed 01 March 2017: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/colds-and-flu-prevention

NSW Health 2017, ‘Influenza (Flu)’, NSW Health, viewed 01 March 2017: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/Influenza/Pages/default.aspx

NSW Health 2017, 'Seasonal Influenza Vaccination 2017', NSW Health, viewed 01 March 2017: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/immunisation/Pages/seasonal_flu_vaccination.aspx