The seasonal flu (influenza) and the common cold are two viral infections that are contracted many times in a person’s life. These conditions are not life threatening in a healthy person and within 3 to 5 days, the most severe stages of the infection should pass.
It is not unusual to get the flu or cold at least two times in a year. Some people may contract these infections more often if they are stressed, not eating well, living in colder environments or do not live a healthy lifestyle. However, frequent colds and flu should be investigated to identify other underlying disorders that may be impairing the immune functioning, like HIV/AIDS.
The first symptoms of the flu may be felt up to two days before the full infection takes it effect. The virus that causes the common cold is more fast acting and may take from a few hours to a day. The most common symptom in this early stage immediately after exposure is fatigue, sometimes a bit of nasal congestion and a general feeling of being unwell (often described as feeling ‘fluish’).
It is sometimes possible to take measures at this early stage to prevent the full onset of the infection. However, once the active stage of the infection takes effect, it is difficult to treat the condition. Fortunately a cold or flu will pass quickly but it is better to prevent the infection rather than treating it.
Your immune system is the best defence against viral infections like the seasonal flu or common cold. Eat well, get plenty of rest, exercise, avoid alcohol and cigarette smoking and try to manage your stress levels. These measures alone will keep your immune system at its peak.
Vitamin and mineral supplements are not always necessary but they can be of use if you are not eating balanced meals.
- Menstruating girls and women may have an iron deficiency due to the monthly periods, especially if there is heavy bleeding. Here iron supplements are necessary or anemia can pose a problem to many aspects of a person’s health, including the immune activity.
- Heavy drinkers and smokers should also consider vitamin and mineral supplements.
- Vitamin C is often touted as the most effective vitamin to fight the flu or cold. This is debatable but since vitamin C is not a nutrient that cannot be stored in the body for long periods of time, it may be advisable to use this supplement during the flu season or when you are feeling ‘fluish’.
- Vegetarians should consider vitamin B12 supplements – tablets or injections.
Excessive use of multivitamins are not necessary in most healthy people.
Rest and Nourishment
Sleeping 7 to 8 hours a day, taking a break between long hours of work and eating regular nutritious meals are important measures to maintain your immune defences at its peak. People who sleep fewer hours in a day, have irregular meals and overwork are more likely to contract infections like the flu or common cold.
You should avoid making close contact with any person who has the flu or cold. While this may not always be possible in the work setting, extra care should be taken. Interacting with large groups of people can also increase your risk of catching the cold or contracting the flu as many people who are still carrying the virus may not show signs or symptoms before the onset of the active stage or just after it.
Washing your hands regularly and not sharing food or drinks will limit your exposure to the virus especially if another person in your environment has the cold or flu. Regular bathing and keeping your environment clean will also reduce the chances of contracting an infection from those around you.
Vaccines and Antiviral Drugs
Vaccines may offer a significant degree of protection against the seasonal flu. There is still the chance that you may contract the flu but if you had the vaccine, the symptoms will usually be less severe. Antiviral drugs are also useful and after the 2009 swine flu outbreak, these drugs are easily available from most pharmacies. It can also be helpful in reducing the severity of the symptoms if you feel the flu coming on.