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Is it a cold or flu and what to do about it?

It’s winter time and we are seeing more colds and flu, but becoming infected has nothing to do with being outside in the cold weather. Both colds and flu are very infectious and spread by close contact with a cold sufferer or inhaling cold virus spray in the air.

A cold and a flu are two different infections. The common cold is a viral infection of the nose and throat which causes a runny nose sometimes with a cough, weepy eyes and sore throats. It usually lasts around a week.

The flu (influenza) is a more serious viral infection that can affect the whole body. It is much more debilitating than a cold and comes on very quickly. It is often accompanied by a high temperature that lasts several days. Headaches, extreme tiredness and aching limbs are also symptoms. Influenza can last up to three weeks and causes the death of many New Zealanders each year.

Occasionally colds or flu can be complicated by a bacterial infection which can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, throat infections, middle ear infections and sinusitis. In these cases, you should see your doctor as antibiotics may be helpful.

A child with symptoms such as a very sore throat, vomiting, high fever, a blotchy rash, stiff neck, joint or muscle pains, aversion to light, a strange high-pitched cry, extreme lethargy or irritability should be taken to the doctor immediately to rule out the possibility of serious illnesses such as meningococcal disease.

Treatment Options

There are medicines available to treat influenza and prevent the infection worsening, if treated early. See your doctor or pharmacist the moment symptoms develop, as they can be prescribed or purchased over the counter at a pharmacy.

Antibiotics won’t help a viral infection, so if bothered by a cough, blocked nose or sore throat, ask your pharmacist for a product to relieve the symptoms. Cold and flu preparations and throat lozenges offer some relief and paracetamol or ibuprofen may be used to bring down fevers. Inhalants such as menthol and eucalyptus can be added to hot water and inhaled to help clear the nose. Try aloe vera tissues or barrier creams on the nose to soothe sore, dry skin.

If you are prone to infections, it is a good idea to check your levels of minerals in your body and correct any deficiencies, particularly zinc. Vitamin A, C, selenium and zinc may be helpful in reducing the intensity and duration of winter colds. Taking a supplement or adding in foods rich in zinc (fish), vitamin C (oranges, red capsicums, kale, broccoli, strawberries), garlic and honey may help to boost your immunity.

For all colds and flu rest in bed is important as is keeping your fluids up. Fruit juice high in vitamin C may be a great way to boost your energy (especially if you have lost your appetite), keep you hydrated and rid your system of toxins. Hot water with lemon and honey is particularly soothing. Make sure you avoid alcohol, caffeine and milk. Eating easily digested foods such as vegetable broth or chicken soup will ensure you get nutrients into your system.

It is important to practice good respiratory hygiene if you have a cold or flu, to limit the spread of the virus. Wash your hands frequently, cough into a tissue and dispose of it carefully and don’t infect your co-workers by going to work or school.

The good news is that reports from the Northern Hemisphere show that their recent flu season was relatively mild and that trend often replicates itself down here. So, if you haven’t already got a cold or flu, stay healthy by maintaining a healthy diet rich in colourful fresh foods; maintaining a healthy gut with good probiotics; sleep well, stress less and take time to get out for some exercise.

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