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What causes cold and flu?

It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely why cold and flu season can fluctuate so much from one year to the next, which has many of us scratching our heads, wondering what it is that causes cold and flu in the first place.

The common cold and influenza are both viruses that are highly contagious. The flu season usually begins in June and peaks around August. Despite popular belief, winter doesn’t cause cold and flu. The reason that the viruses are more prevalent during the cooler months is that people tend to spend more time indoors around other people, increasing their chances of contracting an infection.

Both colds and flu are primarily spread through respiratory transfer. When someone carrying the virus coughs, sneezes, talks or even just breathes, tiny droplets of fluid containing the virus are launched into the air. When these droplets reach another person and come into contact with their eyes, nose, or mouth, the virus can then spread.

These respiratory droplets can also live outside the body for a number of hours. That means if you cough into your hand and then pick up the phone, you are likely to contaminate the phone or other surfaces that you may touch. This also happens with surfaces - if respiratory droplets come into contact with a table, keyboard, or any other surfaces around you which are then touched by another person, they will likely be infected by the virus.

This is why you often read about breakouts of viruses in places where lots of people tend to congregate, such as nursing homes, schools, and office buildings.

That’s why it’s so important to stay home and isolate yourself from others if you think you may be coming down with a cold or the flu. Even by spending a few hours in the office or on public transport, you are putting many other people at risk of catching your infection, who may pass it on to others.

The first few days of the virus are when you’re the most contagious, even before you feel symptoms. But any time that you are showing symptoms, especially coughing, sneezing or runny nose, you are at risk of spreading the virus to others.

Even if you have what you consider to be a mild cold, with symptoms that aren’t particularly bad, you are still contagious and can spread the infection to other people whose immune systems may not be able to protect them and can develop a severe cold. There are some people in the community who are especially at risk of developing serious complications from the flu, such as pneumonia that can cause hospitalisation or even death.

One of the best ways to protect yourself and the community against the spread of the flu, in particular, is to get yourself vaccinated. Once you get the flu vaccination, you are less likely to catch the virus. The more people in the community who are vaccinated, the better the chance of reducing the spread of the flu. Peak season for influenza usually occurs in September, and it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to start. To get you and your family vaccinated, simply pop into your local participating Capital Chemist, and your pharmacist can often vaccinate you on the spot.

If you do come down with a cold or flu, your Capital Chemist pharmacist can issue a workplace leave certificate. All you need to do is pop in-store for a short consultation (a fee will be charged). Remember, pharmacists can only issue certificates for short-term, self-limiting illnesses. Strict conditions apply, to find out more or chat to your local Capital Chemist.

You may also be interested in the following:

To work or not to work?
Common sense for the common cold. Tips to stay healthy during winter
Kids and Colds
How to care for someone with the flu
Leave certificates at Capital Chemist

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Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.