What causes the common cold and flu?
The common cold is caused by viral infections in the nose, throat and chest, and the flu by the influenza virus, of which there are three major types – A, B and C.
This virus is able to mutate, giving rise to different strains every year from which the body does not have any immunity (even if you had a flu vaccine the year before).
This is why it is easy to get the flu repeatedly.
The flu virus is passed from one person to the other through fluids from mouth and nose secretions.
Cover your cough or nose and stay at home if you are sick to help stop spreading the virus to others.
Tips for Reducing your chance of flu
Washing your hands
Infectious diseases are easily transmitted by hand-to hand contact sneezing and coughing, and can last on almost any surface or object for hours.
So if you eat or drink, shake someone’s hand or go to the toilet, for goodness sake wash your hands and use soap!
Ensure your house is not overheated.
Lower humidity created by heating dries out mucous membranes of the nasal passages, making you more vulnerable to infection.
A recent study at the Oregon State University also found that the influenza virus survives and travels best when the absolute humidity is low.
Make sure you go out and get fresh air or open a few windows to counteract the drying effects of indoor heating.
People who are under stress tend to have weakened immune systems, so are more likely to get sick.
If you are stressed try to incorporate some relaxation into your life. If you remain relaxed, your immune system produces more of the chemicals needed to fight infection (interleukins).
Smokers are more prone to respiratory illness than nonsmokers, and experience more severe and frequent colds.
Why? Cigarette smoke dries out nasal passages and paralyses the hairs that line the mucous membranes, which normally act to sweep viruses out of the nasal passages.
Long term moderate exercise may help prevent colds, according to a study in The American Journal of Medicine.
A 30-minute walk can increase the levels of leukocytes, which are part of the family of immune cells that fight infection.
There is no conclusive evidence that taking vitamin supplements will prevent a cold or flu, and too many supplements can actually be toxic.
However, Vitamin C, E and beta carotene have antioxidant properties that can work together to boost immune response, so get your vitamins from natural sources (see below).
Fruit and vegetables
Increase your resistance to infection by eating more fruit and vegetables. Stock up on carrots, apricots and broccoli for beta carotene, nuts and green leafy vegetables for Vitamin E, and oranges, strawberries and broccoli (vitamin C).
•Drinking 8 glasses or more of water a day will help your respiratory tract to expel invading viruses by thinning your mucus. Cringe, but it’s true.
For only $20 or free if you are over 65, the influenza vaccine will not protect from all strains of flu or the common cold but will certainly reduce your influenza risk. For those people who are 65 years of age and over, or who are at risk because of pre-existing medical conditions, don’t be a matyr and make sure you get your flu jab.