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10 tips to prevent and manage flu and other seasonal viruses

Wherever we live, flu and cold viruses exist, and no-one is completely immune.

In most countries, the flu season peaks when temperatures drop and humidity is low. So, if you’ve relocated for work, you may find that cold and flu bugs are around at a different time of year.

In the Northern Hemisphere, flu season usually starts in October and peaks in December before ending in March, but in the Southern Hemisphere, it lasts from June to September. In the Tropics, flu can be a year-round issue. Although most flu cases have a seasonal pattern, it’s possible to catch the flu at any time. And if you live and work in a big city, a recent study has suggested that the flu season lasts longer.

Read our guide to keeping flu and seasonal viruses at bay. And if you’re unlucky enough to catch the flu, a cold or a winter bug, learn how to look after yourself by following these tips:

Medical professional administering a shot to the right arm of a Caucasian male Medical professional administering a shot to the right arm of a Caucasian male


1. Get an annual flu jab

When expat executive Paul relocated from the UK to Singapore with his family, he wasn’t sure whether he’d need a flu vaccination, or even whether a flu season existed there. In the UK, Paul’s employer had paid for a flu jab because he wasn’t entitled to free one on the National Health Service (NHS). Singapore, with its tropical climate, has flu year-round, and a high number of cases. Paul realised that he and his family would benefit from being vaccinated.

Guidance on flu vaccines varies from country to country, but throughout the world, experts agree that flu vaccinations are not only safe, they are the best way to reduce the likelihood of catching the virus. Singapore follows the WHO vaccination policy, which says that vaccines benefit all. However, young children, pregnant women, health care workers, older adults and people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems are particularly at risk of complications, so should be immunised as a priority.

We need to be immunised annually because flu viruses evolve, and our immunity wanes over time. The best time to get the vaccine is at the beginning of the flu season, but if you’re not sure when it’s best to be immunised, talk to your doctor or a pharmacist.

Soapy hands running under a faucet to wash them Soapy hands running under a faucet to wash them


2. Practice good personal hygiene

Wash your hands frequently and encourage family members to do the same. Studies show that regular handwashing with soap is one of the most effective ways to reduce the chances of catching cold and flu viruses and passing them on. Seasonal bugs spread when tiny droplets from coughs or sneezes travel in the air and land on surfaces, where they can survive for up to 24 hours if they are not washed away. If you don’t have access to soap, then hand sanitiser gel will do.

In some Asian countries, particularly in Japan and China, people wear face masks to prevent the spread of flu. Paul wasn’t sure if his employer would suggest he do the same, but they are less common in Singapore. Deciding whether to wear a face mask is probably a matter of personal choice, with some guidelines recommending them. If you wear one, change it a couple of times a day, more often if it gets wet.

As well as practising good hygiene and getting vaccinated, we can give our bodies the best chance of defending themselves against viruses with a healthy immune system. For our immune systems to work well, we should:

Bald African-American asleep in his bed, with his glasses and coffee mug on his nightstand. Bald African-American asleep in his bed, with his glasses and coffee mug on his nightstand.


3. Get enough sleep

We can help our bodies to fight off invading germs by getting enough rest. Everyone’s different, but most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

Display of Mediterranean dishes on a wooden tabe including falafel, kebabs and hummus Display of Mediterranean dishes on a wooden tabe including falafel, kebabs and hummus


4. Eat a variety of foods

Eating 5-7 portions of fruits and vegetables daily is one of the easiest ways to stay healthy. Fruit and veg contain valuable vitamins and minerals, so including plenty of them in your meals prevents deficiency and keeps our immune systems working well. Eating well isn’t a sure-fire way to stop yourself from getting the flu, but it will help to keep us you good health. Fruit and veg are also high in fibre, and a recent animal study found that a high-fibre diet could help protect against the flu.

Caucasian male and Asian female jogging on Barcelona Beach in Barcelona, Spain Caucasian male and Asian female jogging on Barcelona Beach in Barcelona, Spain


5. Exercise regularly

Although it sounds easy, most of us don’t get enough exercise. It helps to remember that building extra activity into your day is enough. If like Paul, you sit at a desk all day, take regular breaks and move around every half hour or so. Brisk walking is great exercise: aim for 20-30 minutes a day during your lunch break. If you’d like to do more formal exercise, choose something you enjoy and stick with it for a few weeks until it becomes a habit.

Asian businessman speaking during a business meeting Asian businessman speaking during a business meeting


6. Manage stress

Relocating to a different country, being far from friends and support networks can play havoc with your stress levels. Being aware of the signs of stress is a first step, the next is taking steps to manage it. Remember that not all stress is bad. We need some in our lives to be productive, but too much can make us exhausted and ill. If you think your stress levels need addressing, talk to someone. This could be a family member, your doctor or a counsellor. If work is the problem, talk to your line manager and don’t suffer in silence. Read our tips for ways to ease your stress levels.

Group of multi-racial and multi-ethnic colleagues drinking beer and wine on a rooftop Group of multi-racial and multi-ethnic colleagues drinking beer and wine on a rooftop


7. Watch your alcohol intake

Tempting as it is to wind-down with a few drinks after work, try not to make it a daily habit. When you drink alcohol, keep an eye on your units. Not only does too much alcohol weaken our immune systems and make us more vulnerable to infections, it disrupts sleep and affects our productivity the following day.

Young man drinking water while lying in bed Young man drinking water while lying in bed


8. Look after yourself

If you’re unlucky enough to come down with the flu, you’ll need to rest until you feel better. If you’ve just got a light cold, you may be well enough to work. But if you have a fever, go home and rest. It’s worth thinking about your impact on others. Do you really want to share your germs with your co-workers? While resting at home, sneeze or cough into a clean tissue and dispose of it in a bin. Don’t share towels with family members to avoid infecting them.

Asian husband helping his sick wife take her medicine while seated on their sofa Asian husband helping his sick wife take her medicine while seated on their sofa


9. Treat your symptoms

If you have aches, a fever or chills, take paracetamol to lower your temperature and feel better. Follow the directions on the packet and don’t take more than four doses in 24 hours. Rest and fluids will ease your symptoms and let your body heal itself. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and if you feel tired, rest or nap.

Doctors examining young female patient in an African clinic Doctors examining young female patient in an African clinic


10. See a doctor

Flu is managed differently from country to country. In some, it’s commonplace to see a doctor. In others, a doctor will tell you to manage your symptoms at home. One thing’s certain – if you or anyone in your family comes down with the flu and is in an at-risk group for complications, make sure you get medical advice early on.

Your doctor may recommend antivirals to fight the flu, which should be taken within 48 hours from the onset of symptoms. Most people recover well, but complications can happen. If your symptoms get worse, or last a week without improving, see a doctor as soon as you can.

Talk your employer today to find out more about their sick leave policies and your health and wellness plan benefits.

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