It’s that time of the year again when viruses are out in force and many people turn to vitamins and pills to ward off colds and flus.
However, the best way to avoid winter germs is with a flu shot, a healthy lifestyle and good personal hygiene. Colds and flus are caught in two main ways:
- From respiratory droplets spread from a cough or sneeze (droplets generally travel
- By touching contaminated surfaces such as door handles, taps, tissues and hands and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Flu viruses can survive on some hard surfaces for up to 2 days.
An annual flu vaccination is the most effective protection against influenza. It is best given in autumn but can still be given in June and July. The vaccine is especially important for high-risk groups such as people aged 65 and over, pregnant women and anyone over 6 months with a chronic health disease such as diabetes or a heart problem.
Boosting your immune system helps your body fight germs. Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegies, reduce stress, don’t smoke and get plenty of sleep and exercise.
Other proven strategies are:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick as much as possible.
- Wash your hands often in soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand gel, especially before eating and after contact with a sick person.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes with an unwashed hand.
- Avoid sharing personal items, such as cups, cutlery, towels and toothbrushes.
- Certain antiviral medicines (neuraminidase inhibitors) reduce the risk of catching the flu after close contact with someone who is infected. They are available on prescription from your GP and are most effective if taken very soon after exposure.
- A recent review showed that daily zinc lozenges or syrup help prevent colds in children, although zinc can cause nausea and a bad taste in the mouth and possible toxicity with long-term use.
- A well-fitting face mask covering the nose and mouth helps protect against airborne viruses. They should be used only once and changed 2-3 times daily. Surgical paper masks are useful but P2 and N95 masks are even more effective.
What doesn’t work?
The latest research has again shown that Vitamin C does not prevent colds in the general population although it does appear to shorten colds and reduce their severity.
There is no convincing evidence that garlic, echinacea or multivitamins prevent colds or flu.
For more information:
- Immunise Australia Program
- National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance
- National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Please note this information was correct at time of publication.
- For up to date information, speak to your doctor.