Colds and flu

Updated 11 July 2014

Preventing colds and flu

Feel it – it is been here awhile. We’re talking about winter. Chilly days and long nights; soup-suppers and cosy nesting nights. It’s also cough-and-sniffle season for the unwary.


Feel it – it is been here awhile. We’re talking about winter. Chilly days and long nights; soup-suppers and cosy nesting nights. It’s also cough-and-sniffle season for the unwary.

Don’t get caught: PharmaChoice spokesperson and pharmacist Liezl van Tonder offers an essential flu fact-sheet to get you through the season without coming down with a cold or flu:

1. Keep your immune system in top form.

It’s the best way of beating the bugs that are floating around. Keep warm (keep your body temperature constant), and get enough sleep (tiredness causes stress, and stress weakens the immune system). Eat your greens, and snack on fruit: they’re a powerhouse of vitamins and antioxidants. Make sure you’re hydrated to avoid stressing the vulnerable mucus membranes of your mouth and nasal passages: a knob of ginger in a mug of boiling water makes a refreshing, caffeine-free, immune-boosting ginger tea.

Especially as you see others start to succumb, quickly take pre-emptive immune-system boosters. ViralChoice recommends a maintenance plan at this time of the year of one to two capsules a day, with food and at least half a glass of water, for eight weeks. Give it a break for a week, and then start again.

2. Consider the flu injection

It’s difficult to contain viruses that travel through the air, as the flu virus does. And one of the distinguishing things about these viruses is that they mutate all the time. That’s why we never become immune to them.

Each year, a new flu vaccine is developed to counteract the specific mutations that have emerged that year, and the three most common strains of influenza are generally covered. The vaccine contains inactivated viruses which prompt your body to produce antibodies, around seven to 14 days after you’ve received the injection. These antibodies will either prevent you contracting the flu if you’re exposed to one of the viruses included, or will reduce the severity of the symptoms. The vaccination has been found to be effective in 70%-90% in healthy adults when the strains are well matched[1]. Those who should check with their doctors before having the vaccination include people who’re allergic to eggs (the vaccination is grown in eggs), those who have previously exhibited side-effects from such vaccinations, anyone who is ill with a high fever or has any other acute illness, pregnant women, or anyone who has a bleeding disorder. It’s also not suitable for babies (under six months), and is recommended in the elderly.

3. Basic hygiene is your best friend

Wash your hands frequently, especially when you’ve been out and about, and get into the habit of avoiding touching your face and mouth. That’s because it’s very easy to pick up the virus on your hands as you, for instance, touch the rail of an escalator, or the door handles in an office where even one person is infected. If the virus in on your hands, and you transfer it to face or mouth, you’re giving it a real leg-up to invade your system.

4. Be aware that cold and flu bugs are sneaky

There may be an incubation period of one to four days, and a contagion period of seven days or longer, which means you’re not always going to spot an infectious person. Contain your sneezes (use a tissue, and dispose of it right away), just in case; and keep an eye out for those around you who’re careless about that sort of thing.

In healthy adults, colds and flu bugs are often no more than simply an inconvenience. But they can make you vulnerable to more sinister things, especially respiratory tract infections. So take them seriously, and have a sniffle-free winter!

(Source: PharmaChoice media release, July 2011)


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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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