You just woke up and you’re feeling fatigued, your head is aching, and between a sneeze and a cough, your body calls for your attention: is it just a cold or the start of flu?
Caused by different viruses, both can bother you during winter but you should be extra careful if you’re experiencing flu symptoms, as they’re much more severe than a cold.
Fatigue, aches, pains, a cough and a sore throat can be present in both cases, however, if it’s flu then these symptoms generally last longer than a week and are more severe. A high temperature (around 38°C or higher lasting for 3-5 days) is also an important alarm from your body that something is not right, and it is this fever that is the main symptom that separates flu from a common cold. High temperature can be followed by severe shivers and strong headaches that may indicate you have influenza and not a simple cold.
This winter has already seen a worrisome outbreak of Influenza A in Australia. This highly contagious respiratory infection is caused by a virus that is always changing and evolving, which is why it is highly recommended to get a flu shot to help prevent the illness that attacks the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs.
Those eligible for a free flu shot under the National Immunisation Program from the Australian Government Department of Health include people aged 65 and over, pregnant women, those who suffer from chronic conditions as well as, for the first time, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from six months of age. Annual vaccination is recommended for anyone six months and older, with those not eligible for a free vaccine under the program able to purchase a shot for a small fee from a pharmacy.
There are three types of Influenza virus: A, B and C. Type A, the most serious, found in humans and animals, and type B, found only in humans, cause the frequent epidemics we see in the winter months. Type C, also only found in people, is much less severe.
According to the Immunisation Coalition who monitor influenza statistics, there have been almost 90,000 confirmed notifications of influenza across Australia this year alone. However, the World Health Organisation said those numbers under-represent the real extent of the problem. With the drop in temperatures, the risks are greater as people spend more time indoors. Just a sneeze or a hug from someone exposed to the virus could multiply the presence of germs.
As you might have guessed, prevention is paramount and there are many simple precautions you can take, starting with basic daily care such as washing your hands and staying hydrated, which help to protect and strengthen your immune system.
Wash your hands regularly
The flu virus can survive for 24 hours on surfaces and can be spread amongst people easily, especially when in close contact with one another or in an enclosed space such as a train carriage or plane. It seems obvious, but it’s very important to keep hands clean, especially before preparing food and eating, as well as after you sneeze.
Keep hand sanitising gel with you at all times. It can help throughout the day when you are unable to get to a sink to wash your hands. You can rely on it after coming into contact with commonly touched surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches and counters.
What about eating in winter? Taking special care in your choice of meals in the cold months is important. Choose balanced meals and healthy snacks such as nuts and fruit. Dark green leafy veggies like spinach and kale, for example, are important sources of folic acid and vitamins A, B6 and B12, which all play a role in the maturation of immune cells, helping in resistance to infections. Citrus fruits such as orange and lemon contain high levels of vitamin C to boost your immunity, too.
According to Roslyn Yee, True Protein’s in-house Accredited Sports Dietitian, to reduce the risk of catching a cold or flu it is also important to eat a nutrient-dense, fibre-rich diet with lots of colourful vegetables and fruit, choosing enough carbs, fat and protein to support your exercise regime and avoid restrictive dieting. ‘And don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated with water and warm tea!’ says Roslyn.
Drink in moderation
Take it easy during happy hour! Regular consumption of alcoholic beverages could affect the immune system, which makes the body more vulnerable to contracting infections.
Move your body!
Besides improving cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and controlling body weight, regular exercise protects against a variety of diseases. As important as keeping a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to a healthy immune system by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. If working out frequently during winter seems harder than in summer, then why don’t you try to give your body a hand with True’s Organic Greens Powder? This healthy blend can help prevent sickness and fatigue with a combination of highly nutritious and mildly alkaline green leaf powders (barley, wheat, alfalfa, oat and spelt), along with chlorella and spirulina. Try a scoop each morning to stay focused at the gym and keep your immune system going strong!
Take care of your sleep
Sleeping well is crucial for the immune system because it is at night that our body works the most to adjust defence cells. Staying awake at night can increase cortisol releasing; a hormone related to stress. In excess, this hormone can decrease the defence reaction.
Avoid sharing personal objects such as cutlery and bottles and keep rooms well ventilated. Try and avoid close contact with people who are showing signs or symptoms of influenza or a cold. These are simple steps in your daily care that can prevent respiratory illness.
It is also essential to cover your nose when you cough or sneeze, but do not use your hand for it! Cover the face with the inner area between the upper arm and the forearm, where the elbow is if you do not have a tissue to hand. This will help you to avoid touching objects with virus-filled hands that can contaminate others before you get a chance to wash them with soap.
Have a happy, healthy winter!