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How Do You Catch Colds and Flu?
There is one sure thing for colds and flu - there’s a lot of it about. How much is actually about varies from year to year, but you can be sure that you will catch them sometime. This must be the golden age of colds and flu. So many people crowd together indoors in winter, at home, at work, at school, and in travelling. This makes the chances of coming into close contact with someone who has one of the viruses so much more probable. Even though the viruses are quite hard to catch, this means there are a lot of chances when you are exposed to them in everyday life. They are also travelling all around the world in a matter of hours. Colds and flu are having a very successful jet-set life travelling all around the world, and not just where it is cold, they are also at home in the heat.
We are all exposed to these viruses on a regular basis, but we do not get an infection every time. The great majority of times our body’s defences work well and we are not infected. Less often we are infected, but our body’s defences act quickly to kill the infection, without us ever being aware that we have been infected. Less often still we are infected and suffer mild symptoms. Thankfully, least often of all, we catch the virus and have a really bad infection. How bad our infection becomes therefore depends on chance, the strength of the virus, and our body’s defences.
You can most easily pick up a cold or flu virus by touching something with the virus already on it, such as a cup, door handle, or telephone. The virus sticks to our hand, and then we touch our eye or nose and it sticks there. From our eye it is washed down with our tears into the nose where it starts the infection. Washing you hands regularly with soap and water helps to clean your hands of infectious viruses, especially after you have been in a situation where you can easily pick them up, such as travelling by public transport. Where soap and water isn't available you can use a hand cleanser whcih you can keep in a bag or pocket.
You can also catch the virus by breathing them in on droplets in the air when someone sneezes. Cold and flu viruses stay airborne for longer when the humidity is lower, such as during the winter. The reason for this is that when you sneeze you shoot out lots of tiny water droplets, and each of these contains viruses. When the humidity is high these droplets absorb moisture from the air and increase in weight, and this causes them to fall out of the air. In conditions of low humidity such as during a dry winter or under modern central heating, the droplets stay light and suspended in the air, and you can then breathe them in more easily, and become infected by the virus.
Your first line of defence is the layer of mucus lining your nose. Unfortunately central heating can dry this, making it less efficient at preventing infections pass through.
The flu virus is more infectious than a cold virus because it can last longer in the air, and still be infectious. This is why a new strain of flu can be so dangerous, we may not have any natural resistance to it, and can spread all over the world so quickly, affecting so many people. This makes any new strain of flu a potential major killer on a world wide scale, as without any natural resistance to it flu can kill even fit and healthy people.
The virus attacks the cells lining the nose and throat, and infects them. It only takes one virus to infect one cell. Each infected cell is taken over by the virus, and it makes many copies of itself, kills the cell, and releases these new viruses to infect other cells. This happens so quickly that within 12 hours of first arriving there may be a million cells killed in the nose and throat.
The nose and throat are now awash with viruses, and this is the time when we are most likely to pass the infection on to someone else. Usually by blowing (or wiping) our nose with our hands, and touching something before washing them. What we touch could be a door handle, a light switch, a telephone, a newspaper or a cup. The virus is infectious, and waiting for someone to touch it, and then touch their eye or nose, and spread the infection. Sneezing also spreads the infection into the air. So now is the time to 'Catch It, Bin It, Kill It'.
Catch It, Bin It, Kill It
'Catch It, Bin It, Kill It' is the 2009 slogan from the Department of Health, which encourages everyone, especially children, to sneeze into a tissue (catch it), then throw away that tissue straight away (bin it), then wash your hands to kill any virus that is still there (kill it). This is great advice for everyone to do whenever they have a cold or flu, every time they sneeze, to minimise the chances of passing the infection on to others. It is important to have a tissue handy to sneeze into, so that the sneeze isn't caught on the sleeve, and that the tissue shouldn't be put into the pocket or up the sleeve, but thrown into the bin straight away.