New year Colds and Flu. January chill and staying on track in cold winter weather
Blog by Jo Farrow
Issued: 8th January 2019 12:45
Updated: 23rd January 2020 16:30

New year Colds and Flu. January chill and staying on track in cold winter weather

PUBLISHED: 8th Jan 2019

It’s a new year, back to school and work after the festive season. You may have made New Year’s resolutions, been on a health kick, Veganuary, Dry January, broken the resolutions already or still be full of good intentions. However, with the winter weather and still plenty of darkness, it can be a hard time to keep up the healthy theme.

"Being cold also affects our body’s ability to fight off infection." PHE

This can be truly interrupted by illness and at this time of year colds and flu seem to be everywhere, locally and globally. With back to school and work those lurgies will spread a bit faster.

Flu  Once you’ve had flu you realise the difference between a cold and proper flu. If you are up and about feeling rotten, sneezing, sore throat and coughing, that can be a cold. Flu will flatten you suddenly and is accompanied by a fever. It can put you off your food so that could help with any losing weight plans.

NHS- Flu’s more than a bad cold and can make people very unwell. It's highly infectious with symptoms that come on quickly and can hit anyone. It is usually characterised by sudden onset of fever 38-39C, chills, headache, aching muscles, joint pain and fatigue. Those with a cold often don’t have the fever and the illness comes on more gradually.

Influenza (flu) is an acute air-borne viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. The seasonal flu is the one which hits each winter here in the UK. The peak of the flu season which is usually around January and February, although this can change every year. It varies each year in strain and how many people are affected. It is monitored around the world. 

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At the start of January 2020, the Weekly National Influenza Report- Summary of UK surveillance said "influenza activity continues but shows signs of having peaked in some indicators.The impact of flu on healthcare services is now at low intensity levels for hospitalisations and ICU/HDU influenza admissions."

Flusurvey outbreaks UK

The amount of influenza-like illness (ILI) reported around the UK week 4.  Click image for more UK data.

You can join in the UK wide monitoring on Flusurvey and filling a questionnaire about your illness whether it be cold or flu. It’s quite therapeutic to fill out and feel that your lingering symptoms are being logged, especially if family are unsympathetic or accusing you of having man-flu.

The results can show where the outbreaks are occurring, say in schools spread by children or hospitals and care homes amongst the elderly. A yearly summary is produced to look at each flu season.

In the 2017 to 2018 season, moderate to high levels of influenza activity were observed in the UK with co-circulation of influenza B and influenza A(H3). PHE . See below

Beast from the East and UK Flu results 2018

Why winter?

So why more flu in winter? Recent research has pointed to the amount of humidity in the air. Cold drier air is more likely to hold the airborne virus for longer, when it is sneezed or coughed out on respiratory droplets.  Flu viruses are more stable in cold air. When the air is humid and warmer, those droplets pick up water, grow larger and fall to the ground.

So think about that sneeze. In warmer humid air, the internal airborne droplets hit air laden with other tiny water droplets, they coalesce and drop as they are too heavy. In drier, colder air, the germ-laden sneeze droplets spread out into the air and stay suspended ready for you to breath them in. Urgh!

We’re indoors more, close to other people, breathing their air and germs. Windows are shut so less fresh air and the airborne flu is in your office or the classroom. Our immune systems aren’t as strong, eating different things, there is a lack of sunlight, maybe also exercise. Anyone with children knows that they bring home every bug going. That maybe sickness & diarrhoea or colds & flu. Once the flu starts spreading, off it goes. It can spread up to six feet away, with cough's sneezes and even talking. You can also get it from touching a surface or object and then touching your own mouth, nose or eye. Wash your hands! the most contagious time is three or four days after your illness begins but by then you should be off work or school, although probably infecting your household. The contagious time can begin a day before symptoms appear and up to a week after.

Vaccinations Many children receive the nasal spray vaccine in November time but it’s not a certainty that the strain which develops matches the inoculation, or that the vaccine given has actually included all the strains available.  

Vitamin D  For parts of the UK taking Vitamin D is recommended anyway due to the lack of sunlight in winter. Boosting your immune system at this time of year through eating well or supplements could help ward off colds and flu. It's worth going outside for a bit in daylight hours even if it is cloudy, it helps your body clock, there is fresh air if it is windy, to blow away the cobwebs. Not quite as ideal underneath a big high pressure with stagnant air trapping pollution.

From about late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight.  The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. Vitamin D is also found in a small number of foods; oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified cereals and spreads.

Flu Survey results 2020 UK

If you are offered the flu jab or come in the risk categories, do consider it seriously and make time to go. It takes about 10 days to work, so don’t wait for an outbreak near you in February.  Washing hands with soap and warm water, sanitising your keyboard and carrying hand gel all help. Public transport is rife with germs and people coughing.

FLUSURVEY When an infected individual coughs/sneezes the virus escapes via aerosols thereby enabling a healthy individual to become infected when they come into contact with the contaminated air or surface. Using a handkerchief can transfer the virus to the hands, and so it can be passed on by touch.

Cold air  Winter preparedness – Just as severe summer heat can present a serious risk to those with underlying health issues and older people, extreme cold can do the same. During the 2018 Beast from the East episode, the NHS issued Cold Weather Alerts in conjunction with the Met Office, rising to Level 3 as the worst of the snow and bitter cold took hold. There has been one Level 2 in January 2020 as cold weather hit parts of England under the intense high pressure with frost.

Despite the endless scare stories in some media publications, there is no imminent concern. 

Staying Active You may not want to be outside so much when it is cold and dark. Cycling in strong winds or driving rain isn’t much fun and can be downright dangerous in the dark or when the sun is very low in the sky at this time of year. Running in the cold or when it’s icy isn’t much fun either. Indoor classes or swimming will keep you active, are social and every little bit could add to your overall health and wellbeing in what can be a sluggish month.

Any resolutions to walk or cycle more? To not pop out in the car or just walk up the stairs? Recent high pressure has brought a lot of dry and settled weather with mostly light winds. Once the early frost is gone, lunchtimes have been fair although sometimes lacking in sunshine with layer cloud which often gets caught in high pressure (anticyclone) This is called anticyclonic gloom, the endless grey days and stagnant stratocumulus cloud. It may not be cheery, but it could be worse weather for a quick stroll around the block. And there is more daylight as we’ve now passed the “shortest day”

Keeping healthy Coughs and colds, flu outbreak

Like your Brussels need a frost, the fields benefit from a decent cold spell. Killing off aphids and caterpillars. The various viruses seem to like a cooler environment to flourish, especially a cold nose. You are more susceptible to catching a cold or flu in cold weather as your immune response will be lower, so keeping warm does help.

Eating well, moving about, washing your hands and avoiding people who are already ill, boosting your immune system and getting the flu jab (available at Pharmacists) could keep you on track for the new year.   

"We encourage those who are eligible to get their flu vaccine when they are called for immunisation, so they are protected for the peak of the season which is usually around January and February, although this can change every year. The flu season can last into spring depending on which strain is circulating and how fast it spreads, but activity usually dies down from March onwards."

NHS Advice about Flu

Cold weather alerts and payments

Tags: Health  

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