Winter is the season for colds and flu and this is the time of the year when infections tend to become prevalent. According to Dr Ramez Albakouni, Internal Medicine; Hematology; and Oncology Specialist, at KIMS Oman Hospital, flu season is an annually recurring time period characterised by the prevalence of outbreaks of influenza (flu). The season occurs during the cold half of the year in each hemisphere.
“Influenza activity can sometimes be predicted and even tracked geographically. While the beginning of major flu activity in each season varies by location, in any specific location these minor epidemics usually take about three weeks to peak and another three weeks to significantly diminish, he said.
In the United States, the flu season is considered October through May. It usually peaks in February. In Australia, the flu season is considered May to October. It usually peaks in August.
Flu seasons also exist in the tropics and subtropics, but are usually less sharply defined. In Hong Kong, which has a humid subtropical climate, the flu season runs from December to March, in the winter and early spring.
During this season, colds are picked up by the virus getting from one person to the next. This can be simply by someone coughing or sneezing in your face, but a little known fact is that germs can be spread via hand contact — someone with a cold puts the virus on to their hands (while sneezing, coughing or using a tissue) and then transfers the virus to a surface (such as a desk, a keyboard, and a surface on the train) which is then picked up by someone else.
But a regular case of flu usually resolves itself in three to seven days, though symptoms like a cough and fatigue may linger longer. Dr Ramez explains that most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.
If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider.
Certain people are at high risk of serious flu-related complications (young children, people aged 65 and above, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions like diabetes and patients who receive any kind of chemotherapy or immunosuppressants) and this is true both for seasonal flu and novel flu virus infections, he said.
Dr Ramez advises to avoid close contact with people who you doubt have flu or cold. Staying at home when you are sick and taking enough rest is always a better option if you are infected.
Covering mouth and nose, clean hands regularly, avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth are good ways to resist the illness. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food, Dr Ramez adds. Cold or flu?
It’s important to know the difference between flu and cold symptoms. A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. The flu can also result in serious health problems such as pneumonia.