As mid-winter approaches, bleak or otherwise, and every Tube carriage turns into a giant, overcrowded petri dish, avoiding colds and the flu becomes a priority. However, as with so much of our health “knowledge”, it’s an area where old wives and suspicious science have run wild for decades, so it can be easy to end up with the wrong idea of exactly what the illness is (hence countless inaccurate self-diagnoses of flu – you know who you are) and what can be done to protect yourself.
Flu Is Not Just A Heavy Cold
Even an especially severe dose of the sniffles doesn’t count as flu. The real thing will cause fever, chills, a sore throat, coughing, aching muscles and headaches. If you’re able to get up and about, it’s probably not the flu, and saying so will only enrage those who have really had the illness.
The Flu Vaccine Will Not Give You The Flu
Every year someone you know will claim they got ill because of the flu vaccine. Ignore these people. The vaccine contains inactive flu viruses. Your arm might ache a bit, but the vaccine isn’t going to lay you out.
You Don’t Get Colds From Being Cold
Flus and colds are caused by viruses, not by getting cold. However, if you are already carrying the virus, getting chilly might lead to your symptoms developing, as it makes blood vessels in the nose constrict, which hampers your defences and lets the virus replicate more easily.
Public Transport Is Not The Enemy
It seems counterintuitive, but a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2013 found that people who regularly took public transport were less likely to catch the flu than those who didn’t. One explanation could be because commuters are exposed to so many germs they build up immunity.
Cover Your Mouth!
Just one sneeze can produce 40,000 droplets and infect an entire room for hours, so if there’s a selfish snotbag at work that eschews tissues pin them down and strap on a mask.
The Flu Is Contagious For Longer Than You Think
Flu is most commonly infectious from when symptoms start for a further five to seven days, even if you feel better. The news is worse for parents; children can be infectious for a few days longer still.
You Can Keep On Kissing
Colds and flu are spread by mucus from the respiratory system, not saliva. So unless they have an especially bad cough that could spread the mucus into their saliva, snog away. Just try not to miss and kiss the nose.
Vitamin C Won’t Save You
Many, many products claim to boost your immunity, but as yet no single thing, not even vitamin C or echinacea, which enjoys wonder-herb status in the US, is proven to help to do so. The immune system is vast and incredibly complicated, not a single entity that will perk up if you eat a couple of clementines.
Don’t Starve A Flu Fever
Eat when you can, and keep drinking plenty of fluids. Starving yourself when fighting off a virus is not a good idea.
Antibiotics Won’t Help
Colds and the flu are viral infections, so antibiotics, which work against bacteria, aren’t effective treatments. All you’ll be doing if you use them is helping to create antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.