What to Do when the Winter Bug Hits You?

Winter is getting close, it is getting colder and wetter and students from all over the world flock to the universities in Britain. All of this is great news for germs and bad news for us. Many of us get ill at this time of the year and we want to get rid of the bugs as quickly as possible. But what are the best things to do? Dr. Sebastian Müller (Ph.D.) gives some insight into the diseases that await us during winter. This is not medical advice and please always consult your doctor.

Not every bug is the same

Of course, there are many different diseases out there. From a simple cold to stomach bugs or the flu virus, being ill does not mean the same thing in every case. Also, many of us react very differently to different diseases, depending on age, the state of the immune system, the types of stress we have been exposed to or simply, what bacterial or viral strain infect us.

Bacteria and viruses are different things

Bugs can broadly divided into two completely different organisms. Bacteria are small single celled organisms that often infect the gastrointestinal tracts, the stomach and the respiratory system. They can also infect the blood, but that is rare. Viruses on the other hand, are not cellular in nature, but contain DNA or RNA enveloped in a protein capsule, that they inject into human cells to produce more viruses and kill the host cell. Viruses can infect many parts of the body and migrate quickly. Whereas we have chemicals (antibiotics) to treat bacterial infections, viral infections are more difficult to treat and not many antiviral drugs exist or are not very efficient. Influenza (flu) is a virus and the symptoms are usually dire and infected people often can literally not move out of bed for days or weeks. A cold or sore throat is usually caused by bacteria with phlegm building up in the respiratory tract. Stomach bugs are often bacteria but can also be viruses. That is often difficult to know without proper analyses by your doctor.

I have the flu – I have to stay at home!

The flu is something very serious and luckily not many of us get it. If you have a simple cold, you will be able to work and besides a stuffy nose and a headache, your health won’t be impaired too much. If your limbs hurt, you have problems with your digestion, headache and symptoms in your nose and throat, you will have something more serious. This could indeed be the flu and you should definitely see your doctor. However, I have seen many people exaggerate with the word flu and I really hope fewer people have it that claim to have it.

Stomach bugs – ouch!

Stomach bugs can hit us at any time of the year, but usually hit more people during winter due to compromised immune systems. Most people have strong reactions for 1-2 days and then the symptoms subside. Symptoms often include vomiting, diarrhoea and headaches. If symptoms persist too long, you might have a more serious infection and should definitely not wait until you see your doctor. Eating can be difficult when you have a stomach bug. Often people do not eat for a while and then introduce food again slowly after a day or two. That is a good strategy, but you should keep drinking plenty of water and electrolytes, to allow proper hydration and not deplete your body of salts. Of course, teas such as camomile or mint tea, can help soothe and calm down your stomach. Furthermore, really try and listen to your body. Your body will tell you what foods to reintroduce. often blunt food, such as bread, is a good way to start and your body will also often grave for yoghurt once the worst is over. Yoghurt is a great remedy to help restore healthy bacteria in your stomach.

Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins

Vitamins, in particular vitamin C, are very important for your immune system. You can ingest it in forms of fruit or food supplements. Also, zinc is crucial for your body to fight off diseases and can also be ingested effectively and efficiently using supplements.

Pain killers – what to take?

If you are in pain, you should really see your doctor. However, against light pains, remedies such as paracetamol are  a great way to get through the day. Be careful not to overdose! Against headaches, ibuprofen can also be used, but it is quite dangerous for the stomach and should only be used after you have eaten. Some people also like to use aspirin but it is not very efficient for pains caused by infectious diseases. In any case, professional advice by your doctor should be sought if you experience pain.

Stay at home and do not spread the germs

It is always a difficult decision what to do when we are ill. Do not try to be a hero and stay at home and rest. This will help you get over the illness quicker and not put your colleagues and other people on public transports at risk. However, a conscientious decision is always needed.

Please let us know if you found this advise useful or if you have other suggestions concerning this topic.

Image reproduced from http://healthvene.com and http://www.apotheke-mayr.com

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About Sebastian Müller

Sebastian Müller was born and raised in Leipzig/Germany and moved to England as an adolescent. He is a trained research chemist and geneticist and is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institut Curie in Paris/ France working in cancer research. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge and is still actively involved at the university today. He is fluent in English, German and French and has many fortés and interests including science, philosophy, linguistics, history, competitive sports such as rowing, fitness and nutrition. He is a freelance writer also drawing from his experience as an author in peer-reviewed scientific journals. "I love writing and putting my thoughts down on paper. The written word to me is one of the most powerful ways of conveying thoughts and initiating discussions."
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