Flu Photo: Thinkstock
Most of us catch two or three colds a year, so you’d think we’d know just what to do when they hit.
Think again. Much of what we’ve been trained to do when we have a cold is downright wrong. We end up spreading the virus around to everyone else, prolonging our symptoms – and setting ourselves up to catch the next cold that comes along.
As your throat starts aching and your nose starts running this season, here are five things you most definitely should not do:
1. DON'T ✗ Cover your mouth with your hand when you cough or sneeze
Polite, maybe, but you’re depositing germs straight into your hands – then transfer them to whatever you touch.
While others may breathe in airborne viruses in the tiny droplets expelled in a cloud when someone coughs or sneezes, the droplets quickly fall to the ground and dry, says Chris Burrell, Emeritus Professor of Virology at the University of Adelaide.
However, the labile cold virus lives much longer in moist mucus – the stuff that ends up on your hands when you sneeze into them. Studies in hospitals have shown that people who sat all day by a sick person’s bed were less likely to catch a virus than the person who visited for a short time but touched the surrounds. Rhinoviruses, one of the most common types of cold virus, can live up to three hours on the skin or on objects such as telephones and computer keyboards – so your hands are the real culprits.
DO ✓ The right way:
- Sneeze and cough into your arm, or into a tissue, which you should then throw away.
- Wash your hands every time you sneeze or cough into them, and get the whole family to wash their hands regularly all through winter.
- Rub your eyes with your knuckles – they’re less likely to have picked up someone else’s germs than your fingertips. Better still, try not to touch your face with your hands unless you wash them first.
2. DON'T ✗ Wrap up warm
In most parts of Australia, colds and flu are definitely part and parcel of winter, but not necessarily because it’s cold. In one study conducted in Salisbury in England, volunteers either rugged up and kept warm while they inhaled a dose of rhinovirus, or sat outside with their feet in a tub of icy water. The rate of infection was much the same in both groups.
We get more colds in winter because we’re more likely to be inside, sharing air with infected people. Children who run around in the sun are much less likely to be touching each other and exchanging viruses than they are when cramped inside a school room while it’s wet and cold outside.
There’s also evidence that unflued heaters can exacerbate respiratory problems, as can breathing mould in poorly ventilated rooms.
DO ✓ The right way:
- Leave the windows open a crack – you need fresh, circulating air to chase out germs.
- Don’t wind up the heater too high. It’s important not to dry out the mucous membranes in your nose, mouth and eyes, which all provide the first line of defence against viruses.
- Remove mould and mildew, which can cause breathing illnesses in some people.
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