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Winter is the time of year when cold and flu germs seem to lurk around every corner, ready to pounce. Here’s how to beat back and conquer those winter sniffles.

What causes the winter sniffles? Both colds and flu are airborne viruses. Colds generally cause a runny nose, sore throat and sneezing, while the flu is more likely to affect the whole body, causing fever, aches and headaches. Both are spread when someone comes into contact with droplets from coughing or sneezing, or with saliva, says Johannesburg GP Dr Bibi Aysha Makda. They have a short incubation period, and last anything from three to four days, says Dr Jonathan Egner, a Durban-based paediatrician. Colds and flu are both “highly infectious”, he says. “As long as you are sneezing and coughing you can spread the virus,” adds Makda.

Counter punch the winter sniffles

Here are some tips to beat back cold and flu germs from your family’s door this winter:

  • Get the jab: Getting the flu vaccine is a good idea, especially for children with respiratory or cardiac problems who may be more at risk of developing complications should they get the flu, says Egner. Children can be vaccinated from six months old; this can be done every year until they develop a stronger immune system. However, not everyone needs the vaccine, so check with your GP first. Note: the vaccine only works for the flu and not for colds.
  • Eat right: “Eating a nutritious diet and avoiding junk food can help to improve immunity,” says Makda. She says high levels of sugar can bring down the immune system. Try foods that are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, such as berries, pecan nuts and raw peppers.
  • Vitamins for vitality: Children who eat a balanced diet shouldn’t need vitamin supplements. Parents “can always up foods containing vitamin C”, suggests Egner. But a multivitamin can help counter infections that are spread at schools. Most vitamins are safe, but taking excessive vitamins A and D can lead to toxicity, so stick to the recommended allowance.
  • Fit for life: Exercise can also help to keep children healthy and strong. “The active person is healthier,” says Egner. Sunlight is also a good source of vitamin D, advises Makda.

Read more advice on steering clear of the winter sniffles.

Fighting rules

To make sure you win this round, here are some rules to teach children:

  • Avoid people who are sick. The more exposure children have to sick people, the more danger there is of infection. This isn’t always possible, especially at school or home, but it does help if you keep surfaces clean, and sterilise shared toys.
  • Children should be taught to avoid touching their mouths, noses and eyes as viruses spread when germs pass from hands to mouths or eyes.
  • Teach children to sneeze or blow their nose into a tissue and then to throw the tissue away.
  • Get children into the habit of washing hands before dinner and after playtime to avoid spreading germs. Try teaching children to sing a song (such as “Row, Row, Row, your Boat”) while they wash their hands, so that they stay at the basin long enough to clean their hands properly. If there isn’t a basin nearby, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

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