THE “worst cold ever” is spreading like wildfire, striking thousands of Brits as they return to normal life.
It’s not inevitable that you will catch it, or pass it on to someone else.
Got symptoms? You’re probably contagious
We’ve all gotten used to protecting ourselves from the coronavirus in the past almost two years.
And the same measures can be applied to colds caused by common bugs.
Only, there isn’t a vaccine that can prevent or ease the severity of symptoms, like there is for Covid or the flu.
So what is the worst cold ever, and how can you reduce its spread?
What is the ‘worst cold ever’?
Colds and flu were stopped in their tracks for more than a year when people were forced to stay at home during lockdowns and social distance.
However, since things have reopened and Brits are spending more time socialising, coughs, colds and flu are on the rise.
People have rushed to Facebook, Twitter and TikTok to talk about how they have been ill for weeks with the “worst cold ever”.
More and more people are being struck with the nasty illness, and taking days to recover.
This cold feels so bad in part because we have lost the immunity we had built up each year against the standard winter bugs.
When are you contagious?
The NHS says a common cold bug is infectious from a few days before your symptoms appear until all of the symptoms are gone.
Therefore, most people will be infectious for around two weeks.
Symptoms are usually worse during the first two to three days, and this is when you’re most likely to spread the virus.
If you have a runny or blocked nose, sore throat, headache, cough, sneezes or raised temperature, these could all be signs you are sick and contagious.
The type of bug you are infected with will determine how long you are contagious for.
For example RSV, a bug that usually infects children before they are two, is infectious for around eight days after symptoms start.
But because symptoms like coughs can linger, it would be smart to avoid anyone – or at least prevent coughing in anyone’s direction – until you are better.
How to prevent spread
If you are the one infected, it goes without saying you should try your best to stay away from other people.
It is not NHS or government guidance to stay at home if you have a cold.
But some people choose to do this if they are able to, for example if they can work from home or take sick leave.
Some experts have called for a change in attitude when it comes to viruses.
Top public health official Dr Jenny Harries this week urged people to recover at home, rather than take the more traditional approach of “grin and bear it” and go into the office.
Hands, face, space, fresh air
Apart from staying away from other people, the steps you can take to avoid spreading or catching a bug may sound rather familiar.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England, said: “As we head into winter, there are steps we can all take to keep ourselves healthy and reduce the burden on the NHS.
“Hand washing, ventilation and mask wearing aren’t only important for Covid-19, they keep other bugs at bay too, and try to stay at home if you are unwell.”
You should wash your hands with soap and water. This is the only thing that will kill all types of bugs.
The NHS also advises not sharing towels or household items, like cups, with someone in your house who has a cold.
Dr Zania Stamataki, Senior Lecturer in Viral Immunology, University of Birmingham, urged people to keep protecting themselves in public spaces.
She told Trending In The News: “We are mixing and traveling, and seasonal viruses are finding easy hosts to circulate, particularly in public transport and crowded environments.
“We can protect ourselves by washing our hands often, but it is difficult to avoid catching a respiratory virus if people cough near us in public transport or in crowded spaces. We will see a lot more of this.
“Given that the Delta variant is still going around even amongst the vaccinated, I still wear my mask when I can’t keep my distance indoors. This is to protect others in case I carry a virus, rather than to protect myself.
“It will also help if people with symptoms of infection can stay at home and recover if they can, rather than pass it on.
“If people continue to do this we have a good chance to reduce the burden of respiratory virus transmission in general.”
Dr Zania said that, although she plans to take the flu jab as soon as she is offered it, there are no jabs for common bugs that cause sniffly noses and coughs – other than against Covid.
Experts have been urging those who are invited to get their free flu jab, as well as their Covid booster shots.
Flu will soon be ramping up in circulation, as it typically spreads in the colder months, while Covid cases are currently high going into winter.
Dr Yasmin Razak, a GP Partner at Golborne Medical and Medical Advisor to myGP, said: “Flu can be very serious for those in at-risk groups, and I sincerely hope the last 18 months has taught us the importance of not only getting vaccinated but also keeping our space and staying away from others if feeling unwell.
“If we can apply this logic to flu, and everyone who is eligible gets their vaccine, there is every hope that we can reduce the strain on the NHS this winter.”
One of the NHS’ main tips for avoiding getting sick is to “stay fit and healthy”.
This will keep your immune system primed, should you come into contact with a nasty bug.
Other tips for keeping yourself protected include cutting back on alcohol, getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and managing stress.
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