With winter comes the cold and flu season, but there are ways to keep yourself healthy and avoid getting ill.

Both flu and colds are spread when infected people cough or sneeze infected droplets into the air which are then inhaled by other people. Flu is more severe than a cold and in some people, especially those over 65, it can lead to serious problems such as pneumonia and also cause death for those with heart disease.

The flu usually lasts seven to 10 days and symptoms include fever, muscle aches, sore throat, coughing, runny nose, sneezing, headache, tiredness and lethargy.

Colds usually last one to two days, with symptoms including mild fever, headache, runny nose and sneezing. Children can catch as many as 10 colds each year and adults can get two or three.

Dr Hsin-Hua Liu from Holdsworth House Medical Practice, Darlinghurst, says there are a number of ways to protect yourself against these common illnesses. For starters keep your lifestyle as healthy as possible.

A diet which includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit each day, going for regular walks and avoiding too much alcohol all make it easier for your body to resist any kind of infection, including colds and flu, Dr Liu said.

Being a non-smoker helps, as does washing your hands more often to remove germs.

It’s very easy to pick up cold and flu germs from things other people have touched -“ telephones, door handles or money, for instance -“ or from shaking hands with someone. Reduce your risk by washing hands frequently using warm water and soap, Dr Liu explained.

It’s also important to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands as these are all ways that germs can get into your system.

Keeping away from people who have a cold or flu is easier said than done, but it really is the best way to avoid getting sick. Avoid enclosed, crowded places if you can and, if you are sick yourself, it’s better to stay home from work so you don’t pass it on to others.

The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone who is at high risk of developing flu. This includes anyone over the age of 65, or over 50 if you’re Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Anyone with chronic diseases including asthma, HIV, diabetes, or heart and kidney diseases is also a candidate for vaccination.

The flu vaccine isn’t suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or anyone who is allergic to eggs and certain antibiotics -“ check with your doctor.

Vitamin C, zinc and Echinacea are also used by many people to help stave off colds and flu with varying degrees of success.

If you do catch the flu Dr Liu recommends staying warm in bed until your temperature has been normal for 48 hours. It’s important to avoid rigorous exercise and stay away from dust, alcohol and cigarette smoke.

Drink plenty of fluids -“ six to eight glasses a day -“ and eat a balanced diet. People with a cold don’t usually need to stay in bed.

Some pain killers such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen help reduce fever, headaches and sore throats. Horseradish, garlic, medi-active honey and other herbal remedies may also provide some relief.

Remember to see a doctor if your symptoms get worse.

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