Advice from Liberty's Dr Belinda Dias.
Is it really true that more people get sick during winter with colds and flu?
"Yes, because the influenza season in South Africa usually peaks during the winter months. The way we behave during cold weather doesn’t help, remaining indoors for long periods and having poor ventilation because windows and doors are kept closed is a perfect setting for viruses to spread from one sick person to another."
How should people prepare for winter from a health point of view?
"A flu injection – irrespective of age and co-morbidities – is always a good idea. However, if you are on medication that suppresses your immune system or immuno compromised, please speak to your doctor to confirm if and when you can have the flu vaccination.
It's always wise to drink lots of fluids and to exercise. Often with cold weather we are less keen to exercise and we’re more likely to want to consume coffee and hot chocolate than cold water. The concern is that coffee has a diuretic effect and keeping hydrated is important to maintaining good health."
How should I manage a chronic condition during the cold season?
"If you have a chronic medical condition, make sure you have a yearly or bi-annual check-up before the winter season, when doctor's rooms are less crowded with patients with flu and colds. You are more likely to get an earlier appointment than if you make it over the winter season. Also you have a better chance of getting over a cold or flu if your underlying medical condition is well-controlled."
What other factors should I be aware of during winter?
"The cold temperature is not the reason for influenza and common colds – however, cold weather makes us huddle up close and we tend to stay inside with closed windows and doors, so the air does not circulate and ventilation is poor. Fossil fuels used for heating and resultant pollution may cause flare-ups of chronic respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD and/or allergies. Heaters also dry up the moisture content in the air and cause upper airway irritation."
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