Our grateful thanks to the contriboutors to our radio feature, which you can hear again via the audio player at the bottom of thispage and to the World Health Organisation and the NHS for the information below.
Here are five tips for a safer winter from the World Health Organization:
1. Know the symptoms
The flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, but they are both infectious respiratory diseases, spread by droplets and aerosols when infected people cough, sneeze, speak, sing, breathe, etc.
They have similar symptoms, including cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, headache and fatigue. People may have varying levels of illness with both the flu and COVID-19. Some may have no symptoms, while others have mild symptoms or severe disease.
Because symptoms are similar, you may need to take a test if you are in a risk group, so that treatment can begin quickly, if needed.
The flu is different from the common cold, which can be caused by several viruses. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose than those with the flu or COVID-19. Colds do not usually result in serious health problems.
Another virus that might be in circulation is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is mostly seen in young children and the elderly. It causes wheezing and breathing problems. Most people recover in a week or two; however, RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older people, leading to death in some cases.
2. Know who is at risk
For both the flu and COVID-19, the people most at risk of serious illness are older people, anyone who is pregnant and people with underlying conditions, such as cancers and chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
The flu can put children under five at risk of severe disease; whereas anyone at any age can get sick, become seriously ill and die from COVID-19.
Health-care workers are at high risk of getting both diseases because they are more exposed to patients. They, in turn, risk spreading the diseases to people who are at risk.
3. Get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19
Vaccination is very effective at protecting people against severe illness and death from the flu and COVID-19. It is especially important to be vaccinated if you are a health-care worker or a person at higher risk of severe illness.
The best time to get the flu vaccine is just before the flu season starts.
The best time to get the COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot is when you become eligible.
It is safe to get your COVID-19 vaccination and annual flu shot at the same time.
4. Keep flu away from yourself and others
The same measures to stay safe from COVID-19 also limit the risk of catching or spreading the flu:
5. Stay home if you feel unwell
If you feel unwell, stay at home, if you can. This will help to make sure you don’t pass viruses onto others and it will help to reduce pressure on health services. This simple step saves lives.
If you are in a high-risk group and feel unwell with the flu or COVID-19, seek medical care as soon as possible.
If you are not in a high-risk group, isolate at home and treat the symptoms, such as fever and sore throat.
Many people who test positive for COVID-19 and have no symptoms or mild symptoms can safely recover at home in isolation. People who are aged over 60, pregnant, immunocompromised or unvaccinated, or who have underlying conditions, should contact their health-care provider for advice. Learn the eight steps to safe home-based recovery from COVID-19, including the red flags for when you should seek help.
The viruses that cause the flu and COVID-19 do not respond to antibiotics. However, some people who become ill with viruses can also develop bacterial infections as a complication. In this case, antibiotics may be recommended by a health-care provider.
Most people feel better within a few days or weeks of their first COVID-19 symptoms and make a full recovery within 12 weeks. For some people, it can be a more serious illness and their symptoms can last longer.
The NHS winter flu and COVID-19 vaccination programme provides vital protection to those eligible and their families over winter, keeping people from developing serious illnesses, and helping to minimise hospitalisations during busy winter months.
Following the JCVI’s recommendation that adults over the age of 65 and those with underlying health conditions would be eligible for a flu and COVID-19 vaccination this year, the offer was due to start from early October to maximise protection for patients right across the winter months.
Now with the increased risks presented by the COVID-19 variant BA.2.86, vaccine sites can vaccinate those eligible for both flu and covid.
According to the UK Government, ventilation is the process of introducing fresh air into indoor spaces while removing stale air. Letting fresh air into indoor spaces can help remove air that contains virus particles and prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles (droplets and aerosols) containing the virus that causes COVID-19. While larger droplets fall quickly to the ground, aerosols containing the virus can remain suspended in the air. If someone breathes in virus particles that are suspended in the air, they can become infected with COVID-19. This is known as airborne transmission.
In poorly ventilated rooms the amount of virus in the air can build up, increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19, especially if there are lots of infected people in the room. The virus can also remain in the air after an infected person has left.
Bringing fresh air into a room and removing older stale air that contains virus particles reduces the chance of spreading COVID-19. The more fresh air that is brought inside, the quicker any airborne virus will be removed from the room.
Ventilation is most important if someone in your household has COVID-19 or if you are indoors with people you do not live with. You can pass COVID-19 on to others if you only have mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all.
Good ventilation has also been linked to health benefits such as better sleep and fewer sick days off from work or school.
Ventilation does not prevent COVID-19 from spreading through close contact and is only one of the actions you can take to stay safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Minimise the amount of time you spend indoors with people you do not live with
To reduce the risk of catching COVID-19, or passing it on, minimise the amount of time you spend indoors with people you do not live with. Meet outside if possible. If you do meet indoors, make sure the space is well ventilated. Avoid spending time with people you do not live with in spaces with a limited flow of fresh air, such as rooms without ventilation or windows that are never opened. The risk is greater in small rooms as the concentration of virus in the air can build up more quickly than in larger areas.
What you can do to improve ventilation
How you maintain or improve ventilation will depend on the building. Buildings are ventilated by natural systems such as vents, windows and chimneys, or by mechanical systems such as extractor fans or air conditioning, or a combination of both.
Ventilate your home
Opening windows and doors at home is the simplest way of improving ventilation for most people.
If windows have openings at both the top and the bottom (such as sash windows), using just the top opening will help incoming fresh air warm up as it mixes with room air, reducing cold draughts. In warmer weather, use both the top and bottom openings as this will help provide even more airflow.
Opening windows and doors at opposite sides of your room or home will also provide a good flow of fresh air (this is known as cross ventilation).
Make sure trickle vents (small vents usually on the top of a window) or grilles are open and not blocked. Air which flows in from these vents will mix with warm room air as it enters, which helps keep the room a comfortable temperature.
If possible, maintain openings throughout the day to allow a constant flow of fresh air into the home. The weather can affect the amount of air that flows through openings and so these should be adjusted to balance warmth with the amount of ventilation, where possible.
Listen to this weeks radio report
All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.