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Cold and flu – fact vs fiction

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Doing what you can to stay healthy and well can start with making sure your cold and flu knowledge is up to scratch. Read on to learn some key facts.

5 cold and flu myths, busted

Confused about how you can catch a cold or flu, whether you can cure it and how likely you are to pass it on to someone else if you do get sick? There’s a fair bit of conflicting information available so if you’re not certain about something, you’re not alone. 

To sort out some important facts from a whole lot of fiction, here’s what you need to know about a handful of common cold and flu myths you may have heard.

Myth 1. You can catch a cold by being cold

False. Colds are caused by viruses, so you have to be exposed to one of the 200-plus cold-causing viruses to catch a cold. 

So why does it seem like there are more colds going around during winter? Not only does research show that cold viruses spread more easily in low temperatures, another reason more people catch colds when the weather is cooler is because we tend to spend more time indoors, in closer proximity to others.

Myth 2. The flu is just a bad cold

No, it’s not. Colds and flu do have some things in common, including sharing a few of the same symptoms , but they also have a lot of differences , like the fact that they’re caused by completely different viruses.  

The thing to remember is that the flu can be much more severe and lasts longer than a cold and, unlike the flu, a cold rarely causes fever, headache, aches and pains, or nausea or vomiting.

Myth 3. If my cold or flu symptoms are mild, I’m less infectious

No – just because your symptoms are mild, it doesn’t mean the virus is mild. 

Your immune system is probably just up to the task of controlling the virus well  – in fact, some people can even become infected with a cold virus and show no symptoms. 

Likewise, up to 30 per cent of people carrying the flu virus have no symptoms. 

So, regardless of how well or unwell you feel when you’re sick, take steps to reduce spreading it, including coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue – and throwing that tissue away immediately.

Washing your hands regularly and staying at home as soon as you notice symptoms is also important, bearing in mind that you’re most contagious for the first three or four days after symptoms begin.

Myth 4. You can take something to cure a cold

False – there is no cure for the common cold and there isn’t a vaccine, either . Antibiotics aren’t helpful, because they only treat illnesses that are caused by bacteria not viruses, like colds. 

There are things you can do to help relieve cold symptoms though , such as getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated. 

Similarly, while it’s not possible to completely prevent the spread of cold-causing viruses, you can reduce your chances  of getting sick  by adopting some helpful habits and taking measures to support a healthy immune system.

Myth 5. The only way you can catch a cold or flu is by being near someone who has it

No. While the viruses that cause colds and flu do spread through the air and via close personal contact, you don’t have to physically breathe in particles that have been coughed or sneezed out to become infected. 

Given the fact that viruses can survive on some surfaces for up to two days , one of the main ways viruses spread is when someone touches something that has been contaminated with the virus and then touches their face. 

It means frequently washing your hands properly  is one of the most powerful things you can do to reduce your risk of catching a cold  or flu this winter.