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HARMLESS COLD or the DREADED FLU? - How to stay healthy during the winter

A case of the flu is often confused with a cold: the symptoms are frequently played down and dismissed as being a harmless cold.  This can have fatal consequences; a prolonged case of the flu can lead to complications such as pneumonia, myocarditis and circulatory failure. If you suddenly feel seriously ill, have a high fever (over 39°), dry cough, headache, muscular or joint pain, this is an indication of flu and you should consult a doctor immediately.

Influenza is a malicious virus — only vaccination can offer protection against it. The vaccination is renewed every year in line with the dominant viral strain. The recommended treatment is bed rest for at least three days after contracting a fever and medication to reduce the fever. "Relenza®" or "Tamiflu®" are types of prescription medication available to combat the influenza virus — but they must be taken within 48 hours of presenting symptoms.

A common cold (caused by a virus) on the other hand is often exaggerated by the sufferer — bed rest is only required in special cases; such as old age, secondary illnesses or low immunity. Typical symptoms are: acute rhinitis, productive or non-productive cough, fatigue and only a mild fever (below 39°). However, if what is known as a bacterial "super bug" develops, it must be treated with antibiotics prescribed by a doctor.

Important: Antibiotics only have an effect on bacterial infections. Over 80% of all colds are caused by viruses. A responsible doctor will only prescribe antibiotics in rare cases of a bacterial "super bug" (pneumonia, sinusitis or tonsillitis).

How can people help themselves?

Sneezing: The cold virus is attacking the nasal mucous membranes.
Recommended actions: Drink plenty, take 1000 mg Vitamin C every day and rinse your nose with saltwater. A ten-minute "sweat bath" is also very effective; have a bath with a water temperature of up to 40°, then get straight into bed and "sweat" under the covers for 30 minutes while drinking hot tea. This imitates the virus-killing effects of a fever.

Sore throat: The virus has reached the throat mucous membrane.
Recommended actions: Wear a scarf day and night — the additional heat promotes blood circulation and therefore raises the body's defences. Paracetamol can also be taken to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Fatigue: The virus has now spread throughout the entire body.
Recommended actions: Take on 2–3 litres of fluids, get plenty of rest and ensure rooms are well ventilated.

Blocked nose: Decongestant nose drops from the chemist can ease this (take drops three to four times a day), rinse with saltwater.

Chesty cough: Drink plenty throughout the day, inhalations containing lime blossom tea or ivy extract keep the mucous membrane moist. Your doctor can prescribe medication that inhibits a chesty cough to help you sleep. Raising the head of the bed also reduces the irritation during the night.

If you have a productive cough, you should take expectorant medication, drink plenty and, if you are producing yellow or green phlegm, take antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.

Fever & aches and pains: Most medication for pain relief (such as paracetamol and aspirin) also effectively calms a fever. "Natural" methods of calming a fever (very effective) include wrapping both lower legs in wet, lukewarm cloths and then wrapping these in a woollen cloth (or thick socks). Repeat after 15 minutes.


  • Vitamins: An increased vitamin intake in the winter has been shown to reduce colds by 30%. It is recommended to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and possibly Vitamin C supplements.

  • Sport: Moving about in the fresh air keeps your circulation going and strengthens the immune system.

  • Washing hands: Most cold viruses enter through the nasal mucous membrane and the eyes. If you wash your hands frequently and avoid rubbing your eyes or touching your nose, you can reduce the risk of infection by 80%!

  • Influenza vaccination: Protects against classic cases of flu (influenza) — but remember: this must be re-administered every year!