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5 Qs & As: All You Need To Know About The Winter Flu

Family Medicine Physician Dr Peggy Lu from Shanghai United Family Hospital & Clinics shares her advice on warding off winter illnesses.

1. What are common winter illnesses to watch out for?

Respiratory tract infections (such as common cold and influenza) and viral infections to the digestive system (such as Norovirus) are common year-round, but more common in the fall and winter seasons. Young children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis or asthma are the most at risk for such infections.

2. What medicines are available to treat winter colds?

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as Paracetamol (必理痛), Ibuprofen (美林) or Bufferin Cold & Cough (日夜百服寧) are the most popular medications for symptom relief. They may alleviate the symptoms of a cold, but cannot prevent colds. Balanced diet, exercise, good rest and proper hygiene (such as washing hands and not touching your face in public) are the best ways to avoid winter colds.

3. What months are considered “flu season” in China? How can families avoid catching the flu?

In Shanghai, flu season runs from December to April. Influenza vaccinations and good personal hygiene (such as hand washing) are the two most important measures for flu prevention. Everyone needs a flu vaccine in every flu season. Flu shots are readily available at Shanghai United Family Hospital and Clinics, as well as at other international medical centers in Shanghai. The flu vaccine is safe; people have been receiving flu vaccines for more than 50 years, and vaccine safety is closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Hundreds of millions of flu vaccines have been given safely to people around the world for decades.

4. What are some tips to handle winter illnesses while traveling?

When you travel, bring OTC medications with you for the unexpected symptoms and sickness. Seek medical assistance if symptomatic treatment for a day or two does not offer improvement. Emergency hotlines designated by the traveler’s health insurer are usually the starting point for medical assistance abroad.

5. What are the best ways to stay in good mental health during the winter months?

If the winter months get you down more than you think they should, you might have seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In general, SAD starts in fall or winter and ends in spring or early summer.

Normal warning signs of depression include
  • Less energy

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Fatigue

  • Greater appetite

  • Increased desire to be alone

  • Greater need for sleep

  • Weight gain

Many doctores recommend that people with SAD get outside early in the morning to take in more natural light. If this is impossible because of the dark winter months, psychotherapy, anti-depressant medications, or light therapy (phototherapy) may help.