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With winter in full swing and children heading back to school, seasonal bugs like colds and flu are making the rounds.

While the common cold, or upper respiratory tract infections are the most common seasonal bugs, people still contract influenza. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID) says that flu strains differ every year. However, regardless of the strain, symptoms and treatment are very much the same.

What to look for

A runny nose and a bit of a cough that clears up in a day or two, is more likely to be a cold. But, says Cape Town GP Dr Anthony Smith, unlike a cold, flu can leave you feeling sick for up to five to seven days.

Symptoms include:
  • aches and pains
  • a scratchy throat
  • dry cough
  • nausea
  • a loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • hot sweats and cold shivers
  • fever

For those who do come down with the flu, the NCID recommends plenty of bed rest and lots of liquids to avoid dehydration.  And, of course, you need to treat the symptoms.

In most cases, the illness will clear up by itself, but complications can occur in high risk groups. These include children under the age of two, pregnant women, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems, says Dr Kim Bishop, a GP in Durban. Bishop adds that if you or your child is in a high risk group, or still has symptoms after seven days, it is best to see a doctor. Doctors may prescribe antiviral medications. As the flu is a viral infection, antibiotics would only be used to treat any secondary infections that develop, says Bishop. These are often indicated by the phlegm or mucus turning yellow or green and can be treated with a broad spectrum antibiotic. Bishop cautions against taking antibiotics prematurely, as this can lead to drug resistance.

Find out more about croup, a childhood illness associated with winter colds.

Staying ahead

The flu season typically starts in June, says the NCID, but will probably continue until September. So, there is still time to take some preventative measures:

  • Get vaccinated. Ideally the flu vaccine should be done early (March/April each year) before the flu season. However, it is never too late to vaccinate.
  • Good hygiene and washing hands are very important in stopping the spread of germs, says Smith.
  • Avoid people who are sick. If you are sick, stay at home until you are symptom free.
  • Blow your nose and sneeze into a tissue. Throw your tissues away in a bin.
  • People who are run down are more susceptible, so make sure your immune system is functioning at full capacity. Eat well, get enough sleep and exercise.
  • Vitamin C, and foods rich in Vitamin C, can also help.

Tamlyn Vincent

Treat the symptoms of seasonal bugs with these natural remedies and flu-fighting foods .