While the world has spent 2020 coping with the coronavirus pandemic, winter also sees the return of the traditional flu season. According to BUPA, seasonal flu normally starts to affect people between December and March, although outbreaks can happen from October onwards.
While flu affects thousands of people in the UK every year, a new study has revealed that this year’s outbreak could be more harmful than usual.
According to Public Health England, catching flu and Covid-19 at the same time nearly doubles the risk of death. A study of hospital patients who contracted both diseases from January to April 2020 found a 43% mortality rate compared with 23% in people who solely caught coronavirus.
It’s important to note that these high percentages reflect the vulnerable status of these patients. However, public health officials are warning that you could be in ‘serious trouble’ if you contract both flu and coronavirus at the same time.
So, with flu season approaching, how can you avoid catching a virus this winter? Here are 12 tips.
1. Wear a face covering
If we have learned one thing from 2020 it’s that wearing a mask in public places can help reduce the transmission of airborne viruses.
Wearing a face mask or covering not only protects you from others’ germs but it also reduces the chances of the people around you from getting your germs. Even if someone isn’t coughing or sneezing, the air surrounding a sick person contains lots of small, infectious particles. Whatever steps you can take to keep these away, the better.
2. Avoid contact with ill people
It may sound obvious, but you will increase your chances of avoiding a virus by staying away from people who are sick. Of course, you should also keep your distance from others if you yourself are ill.
If you can, stay home from work and school, and don’t go out when you are sick. This will help prevent the spread of your illness to others.
3. Get your flu jab
If you are eligible, it’s a good idea to consider getting the flu jab. As there is not yet a vaccine for coronavirus, it’s important to take advantage of any way of protecting yourself against flu.
If you aren’t eligible for a free flu jab, you can pay for one at pharmacies and supermarkets – although you may have to wait for one as priority is being given to people who need the jab the most.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, says: “The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from becoming ill with the flu, especially if you are in a vulnerable group.
“This winter, with Covid still circulating, and the increased risk to life if you are ill with both viruses simultaneously, it is even more vital to get the free jab as soon as you can.”
4. Get the right nutrients
Combined data from 16 clinical trials involving more than 7,000 people show that taking vitamin D supplements reduces the risk of experiencing at least one respiratory infection, including flu and pneumonia, by a third.
In addition, some found that echinacea could reduce incidences of the common cold by around 26%.
Dr Bella Smith, founder of the Digital GP, says: “Vitamin D is what most of us lack when it comes to winter, so it’s worth topping up on that if you can.”
5. Wash your hands
Since the beginning of 2020, governments around the world have been encouraging their citizens to wash their hands carefully and often.
Quite simply, washing your hands often helps to protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. This eliminates germs, including viruses, that may be on your hands.
As we have learned this year, washing your hands properly takes about as long as singing Happy Birthday twice.
6. Clean your workspace
The flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours. This means that it is easy to contaminate shared spaces.
If you are going into your workplace, maintaining good hygiene can help reduce your chances of getting an infection. You should regularly clean your workspace with anti-bacterial wipes, and you should also regularly clean door handles and lift buttons.
7. Keep your hands away from your face
Your eyes, nose and mouth are three key access points for germs. So, it’s important that you keep your hands away from your face.
Remember that a contaminated surface alone won’t generally give you a virus. The virus needs to pass a mucous membrane, so putting your contaminated hands near your mouth or nose will normally transmit an infection.
8. Eat a healthy diet
As well as taking supplements (see above), eating a healthy diet will help your body to develop a strong immunity. Dr Bella Smith says: “Vitamin C is important for immunity…if you have a good diet that’s full of nutrients, fruit and vegetables, then you probably won’t need supplements.”
Dr Claire Bailey, a GP with a special interest in immunity and author of The Clever Guts Diet Recipe Book, recommends eating a low-carb Mediterranean diet rich in different coloured fruits and vegetables.
She argues that this will give you the best chance of getting the wide variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients your body needs to fight infection.
9. Be careful of germ hot spots
Viruses can live on surfaces and so it can pay to avoid germ hot spots. Common sources of infection include:
- Magazines in doctors or dentists waiting areas
- Pens on pharmacy counters
- ATM keypads
- Buttons on pedestrian crossings and lifts
- Escalator rails
- Poles on tube trains and buses.
If you can’t avoid touching these items, wear gloves if possible or immediately clean your hands with hand sanitiser.
10. Stop smoking
In a 2019 study, current smokers were five times more likely to have laboratory confirmed flu than non-smokers.
There’s never a bad time to stop smoking, but now is a great time to kick the habit.
11. Catch your sneezes
Another hygiene tip we have learned in 2020 is that we should catch our sneezes in a tissue. If you don’t have a tissue, or it’s too late to find one, catch the sneeze in the crook of your arm.
Make sure you dispose of used tissues, ideally down the toilet. If you must dispose of used tissues for a child or older person, wear disposable gloves to avoid contact with the tissue as there may be particles which contain a virus.
12. Clean your screens
We’ve seen earlier that there are many germ hot spots. Your smartphone, tablet, laptop, computer keyboard and mouse are also high-risk germ zones.
Indeed, many of our handheld devices have ten times more bacteria on them than a toilet seat. One study found 3,000 microorganisms per square inch on keyboards and 1,600 bacteria per square inch on a computer mouse.
So, to reduce the likelihood of transmitting germs to your face, carefully clean all your gadgets regularly with antibacterial wipes.
Put the right protection in place this winter
The news in 2020 has been filled with tragic stories of people losing parents, children, friends, and family to coronavirus. It may well have led you to reflect on your own situation, and how your loved ones would cope if something happened to you.
Ensuring you have the right life insurance in place gives you the peace of mind that your family will be supported if the worst happened to you. And it costs less than you might expect. Get a life insurance quote in just a few minutes and make sure your loves ones are protected.
Additionally, Critical Illness cover will provide you with a tax-free lump sum if you are diagnosed with an illness such as serious caner, a heart attack, or a stroke.
It will provide vital financial support at a difficult time, enabling you to repay your mortgage, fund your lifestyle if you have to take time off work, or pay for medical care or adaptations to your home.
Get a Critical Illness quote online today.
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