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How to beat the winter bugs

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THE clocks have gone back and winter is on its way. As illnesses start spreading around work places and schools, it is likely that many of us will be struck down with some kind of ailment in the next few months.

But to try and avoid it there are a number of steps you can take to keep yourself as fit and healthy as possible.

Always eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and try to exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep, says Dr Charlotte Jones, deputy chair of the British Medical Associations Welsh GP committee.

Wash your hands regularly to avoid the spread of infections and wipe down hard surfaces and handles regularly to kill off germs.

At this time of year, vulnerable people, including the elderly, should take extra precautions to keep themselves healthy.

Mathew Coffin, Ageing Well Team Leader at Age Concern Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan, said: One of the most important ways to stay well this winter is to get the flu jab.

We recently did a survey about why people are not having it and many people already think they are fit and healthy so they would not have it. They feel they have never had a problem before and that the flu jab might even give them flu, which can’t happen as it is a dead virus. People often said they felt unpleasant side effects from the flu jab but it is often that they have caught something else at the same time.

People should always try to keep warm in their own home. Many people are turning down the thermostat because of rising fuel costs but we can give thermometers out that monitor the temperature, which should be between 18C and 21C.

Eating well is also important to stay healthy and people should make sure they stock up their cupboards. We have had a bit of snow in the last couple of years so people may not be able to get out and they work their way through their cupboards and don’t eat very well. Trying to stay active in the winter months will also help. We tend to stay inside during winter but some exercise will help.

Dressing well for warmth is also an issue. It’s almost common sense but we say that a few layers is better than just putting on one jumper. Wearing a hat can also help.

However, if you do succumb to viruses and other illnesses, Dr Jones has provided tips on ways to minimise your symptoms and get you back on your feet sooner rather than later.

She said: If you do get ill, don’t forget the catch phrase ‚catch it, bin it, kill it’. Sneeze or cough into tissues and bin tissues immediately.

Many of the winter ailments are due to viral infections. These are often unpleasant but don’t require antibiotic treatment as antibiotics are only effective with bacterial infections.

Also, many people are unaware that if they are given antibiotics wrongly,  they run the risk of getting antibiotic resistance. This means more difficult to treat infections that don’t respond to the usual antibiotics and can be a major problem.

Coughs and colds are often quite mild and tend to clear up within five to seven days. The main treatment for all viral illnesses is to drink plenty of fluids, eat healthily, rest and take paracetamol as per pharmacy or medical advice. Steam inhalation is helpful as it helps the nose drain. Honey and lemon can help with a sore throat.

Avoid sneezing over other people, in particular pregnant women and patients with immune problems or having cancer treatment.
If someone truly has flu it will make them very unwell. They will have a high temperature, all joints and muscles will be aching and they may be sweaty and clammy. The main treatment is to drink plenty of fluids, rest, try steam inhalations and take paracetamol or ibuprofen (provided they don’t have asthma or stomach problems) regularly.

If people are getting worse despite this or if they have breathing difficulties, then they need to seek urgent medical advice. People more at risk with chronic illnesses such as asthma or heart problems should always speak to their doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

Of course anybody who is eligible for the flu vaccine should make sure they get it before the flu season starts and should be booking themselves in now.

Sore throats are mainly viruses and very rarely require antibiotics unless you are having huge difficulty swallowing or not responding to pain relief or medicines to reduce your temperature. For patients aged over 16, gargling aspirin can help.

Around 90% of viruses should settle without antibiotics, but if it is getting worse rather than better, and the patient is having difficulty or severe pain on swallowing or not able to swallow their own saliva or a thickened voice then they might need further treatment and should seek advice.

Dr Brendon Mason, Consultant Epidemiologist at Public Health Wales, warned of a return of flu and winter vomiting bug norovirus this year and provided advice on what to do if you are unlucky enough to fall victim to them.

He said: Obviously eating five fruit and vegetables a day and exercise will help keep you healthy in general, but it won’t be a fool-proof barrier to viruses.

The two diseases that we tend to think about during winter are the winter vomiting disease and flu.

If you have either of these illnesses, do not go to work and do not let children who have them go to school. Anyone with diarrhoea should not go back to work for 48 hours after the symptoms have resolved. Most of us will try to stagger into work but it really is better to stay at home. Providing you are reasonably fit you can self-treat drink plenty of fluids and rest.

If you are ill, being well insulated and keeping warm is always good.

If you need medical help, you can get expert advice from the NHS, your local pharmacist, and your GP.

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