How to beat the bugs
How to beat the bugs
Coming up over the next few
months: around 120 million episodes of cold and flu. But there
are plenty of ways to protect yourself against snuffles and
streaming noses. Jane Feinmann (award winning medical journalist
and author) scans the latest research to find the top ten ways
to stay cold-free
1. WASH YOUR HANDS
Touching everyday objects with contaminated hands is the number one cause of harbouring, spreading and acquiring the common cold virus. Our behaviour makes this easy: unobserved, a person will put their finger in their nose on average once every three minutes, according to research carried out by the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College, London.
Taking extra care in the presence
of a cold sufferer won't necessarily help matters. For the
common cold virus has a far greater longevity than previously
realised, according to new research from the University of
Virginia. Researchers found that one in two healthy people
developed a cold after staying in a hotel room that had been
occupied by a cold sufferer within the previous four days. Most
commonly infected surfaces were light switches, pens,
telephones, handles, taps and television controls.
What to do
Wash your hands properly at least five times a day, including after each episode of coughing, sneezing or nose-blowing. A quick swill under the cold tap is no help whatsoever. A proper hand wash has five distinct steps:
For every person with a streaming nose, another two or three have the virus but don't have any symptoms. Those who succumb have a depressed immune system that increases susceptibility to infection – so make sure your immune system is up to scratch with a healthy diet containing adequate carbohydrate, protein and fat intake appropriate to the winter months. Along with plenty of fruit and vegetables, Dr Joanne Lunn of the British Nutrition Foundation suggests:
Autumn is a "windy" season, according to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health. It's a time when vata, a combination of the elements of air and space within the body, is prone to imbalance, and our digestion can become erratic too. "Our diet at this time should be grounding, warming and easy to digest," says Sebastian Pole, an ayurvedic practitioner in Bath. He recommends warm foods such as cooked grains, especially rice and oats, plenty of fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C and root vegetables such as sweet potato as well as soups and other foods that are easy to digest.
4. TAKE EXERCISE
Couch potatoes have a greater chance of getting a cold or flu
than the moderately active, according to research from
Loughborough University. "Moderate exercise boosts white blood
cells as well as increasing the concentration of antibodies in
the saliva, protecting against respiratory infections," says
Mike Gleeson, professor of sport science and co-author of Immune
Function in Sport and Exercise (Churchill Livingston, 2006).
Mainstream dietary experts are adamant that swallowing pills cannot reduce your risk of getting an infection. "Getting nutrients from food is far more beneficial than taking the same nutrients in tablet form," says Dr Lunn of the BNF. However, an extremely healthy vitamin and mineral industry, and several million supplement devotees, beg to differ. Here are the best of the bunch:
6. STAY WARM
A drop in body temperature can dampen the immune system and
allow the bug to take hold. In very cold weather, it's sensible
to wear a scarf over your nose, the first line of defence in the
immune system. The cilia in the nostrils that brush away
bacteria and viruses slow down when chilly.
A cold virus was squirted up the noses of human guinea pigs who
were then asked to fill in a happiness questionnaire at Carnegie
Mellon University in Pennsylvania. Happy people were found to be
three times less likely to develop a cold.
People who have sex once or twice a week have stronger immune
systems and fewer bouts of colds and flu, according to research
at the University of California at San Francisco. This may be
because they are exposed to a wider range of infectious agents
than those who are not sexually active. However, those who
report three or more weekly sexual encounters have weaker immune
systems. Immunologists speculate that people who have very
frequent sex may be more anxious and stressed as a result of
being obsessive or even in a less stable relationship.
Vicks First Defence spray traps the virus in a gel, preventing
it from penetrating the back of the nose. Trials have shown that
if taken within two days of the appearance of symptoms, enough
of the virus is prevented from entering the body to reduce the
severity and length of the infection. Prescription antiviral
drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza can stop the virus
replicating, must be taken early.
The flu jab is safe and effective and available free for people
at greatest risk of harm from influenza.