Keep well

It's not just illnesses you need to protect yourself from in winter.

Winter weather can bring many risks to you and your family. There's the usual winter coughs, colds and flu, but then there's also risks to your health associated with flooding and storms.

If you are normally healthy, many of the coughs, colds and minor illnesses that seem to happen more frequently during winter can be safely managed yourself. There's plenty of advice on the NHS Choices website and you can also talk to your local pharmacist.

Flu affects people in different ways. If you are usually healthy you will usually shake it off within a week. However, you are advised to get your flu jab if you:

  • are aged 65 or older;
  • are pregnant;
  • have a serious medical condition such as chronic heart, lung, neurological, liver or kidney disease or diabetes;
  • have a weakened immune system due to HIV or treatments that suppress the immune system such as chemotherapy;
  • have had a stroke or TIA (transient ischaemic attack) or post-polio syndrome;
  • are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility (not prison or university halls);.
  • are the main carer for an elderly or disable person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill.

Contact your GP or pharmacist if you think you, or someone you care for, might qualify for a free flu jab (see The flu vaccination winter 2014 to 2015: who should have it and why).

If you are the parent of a child who is over six months old and has a long-term condition listed above, you should also speak to your GP about your child having the flu vaccine. Your child's condition may get worse if they catch flu.

This year, the NHS is offering a flu vaccination to all two and three-year old children through GP surgeries. Children of this age will be invited by their GP to come in for a free flu vaccination.

Pandemic 'flu

An influenza pandemic, often called 'Pan Flu', happens when a new influenza virus emerges and spreads round the world. ('Pandemic' is the name given to the worldwide spread of a new disease).

Because the particular strain of influenza is new, most people will not have immunity to it, which means that very large numbers of people are likely to become infected across many countries in a relatively short space of time. Sometimes millions of people may become ill in just a few weeks. A Pan Flu outbreak will also cause more serious symptoms than seasonal flu (the kind of flu that affects many people every winter) in anyone who catches it.

It is by no means an annual event but there have been a number of pan flu outbreaks in the last 100 years, so it's right that the country remains prepared. pan flu outbreaks are usually given their own nickname. These include Spanish flu, which killed millions of people across the world in 1918, and swine flu, which turned out to be a relatively mild pandemic in 2009, but still caused serious illness and death in a small number of cases.

If there is an outbreak of pandemic flu, you will probably hear about it first through news reports in the national and local media. You may also hear about it through social media networks. It is likely that an outbreak will start outside the UK so you will probably hear about people becoming ill in other countries first before it spreads here.

Listen out for further updates and advice, which will be given out on national and local news reports on TV, radio and news websites. These updates will tell you what symptoms you should look out for in you and your family and what to do if you think you, or anyone you live with or look after, has become ill with the virus. Keep listening to news updates until the pandemic is declared over, because the advice may change quite quickly as doctors gather more information about the effects of the particular virus causing the pandemic.

Look after yourself in winter:

  • Food is a vital source of energy and helps to keep your body warm so have plenty of hot food and drinks.
  • Aim to include five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. Tinned and frozen vegetables count toward your five a day.
  • Stock up on tinned and frozen foods so you don't have to go out too much when it's cold or icy.
  • Exercise is good for you all year round and it can keep you warm in winter.
  • If possible, try to move around at least once an hour. But remember to speak to your GP before starting any exercise plans.
  • Wear lots of thin layers - clothes made from cotton, wool or fleecy fibres are particularly good and maintain body heat.
  • Wear good-fitting slippers with a good grip indoors and shoes with a good grip outside to prevent trips, slips and falls.
  • Make sure you have spare medication in case you are unable to go out.

Keeping well around flooding

The below tips are provided by the Environment Agency and Public Health England. You can also read more advice about how to protect your home from flooding.

Before a flood

Pack a "flood kit" in case you need to leave your home. This should include:

  • Phone numbers, insurance documents, bank cards and money;
  • Medicines and medical devices, hearing aid batteries, glasses and contact lenses;
  • Clothing, toothbrush and personal items; and
  • If you have a baby, pack nappies, clothing and baby food.
  • The British Red Cross provides suggestions on what might be useful to include.

Be careful when moving family, pets or important belongings upstairs or to higher ground.

Responding during a flood

  • Accidents happen in fast flowing flood water. Avoid walking or driving in or near flood water. Driving in flood water significantly increases risk of drowning. Do not let children play in flood water.
  • Be careful not to hurt yourself when preparing your home and moving important things to a higher place with a means of escape. Stay safe, listen to the advice of the emergency services and evacuate when told to do so.
  • Don't touch sources of electricity if you are standing in water.
  • Remember that flooding is stressful. It is normal to feel anxious or upset. Take care of yourself and your family and check on elderly and vulnerable friends and neighbours. Public Health England offers advice and guidance on the mental health effects of flooding.
  • Avoid contact with flood water and wash your hands regularly. Swallowing flood water or mud can cause diarrhoea, fever or abdominal pain. Mention the flood if you see your GP within 10 days for abdominal complaints.

Keeping well after a flood

  • Take care if you must go into flood water. There could be hidden dangers like sharp objects, raised manhole covers and pollution. Flood water may have caused structural damage to buildings.
  • Do not turn on gas or electrics if they may have got wet. Only turn them on when they have been checked by a qualified technician.
  • Ensure good ventilation if using portable indoor heating appliances to dry out indoor spaces. Do not use petrol or diesel generators or other similar fuel-driven equipment indoors: the exhaust gases contain carbon monoxide, which can kill. Read more about the dangers of carbon monoxide (PDF).
  • Feeling tired, anxious and having difficulty sleeping is normal after you have been flooded. Contact friends and family for support as it can take a long time for life to return to normal.  Public Health England offers advice and guidance on the effects of flooding on mental health and other topics related to flood recovery and health.
  • If you notice a change in water quality, such as the water becoming discoloured or a change in taste or smell, or if you are unsure, ring your local water company.
  • For food safety advice after flooding, including how to make baby food without mains water, read the guidance from the Food Standards Agency.
  • Do not eat food that has touched flood water. If your power has been cut off and your fridge has not been working for up to four hours and has remained unopened, the food inside will be safe. If your fridge has not been working for more than four hours it is advisable to throw away the food inside.
  • Wash your hands regularly and clean work surfaces before and after preparing food. Using warm, clean water and soap, rinsing and drying hands is the most effective way of preventing infection. Use cold water to wash if warm is not available. If there is no clean water, use disposable soapy, wet wipes or sanitising gel to carefully clean all parts of your hands and dry them. Cover wounds with waterproof plasters.
  • Make sure your family take their medicines and attend scheduled medical appointments. Dial '111' if you have non-urgent health concerns.

Further information from Public Health England on health and flooding..

Keeping well when cleaning up after a flood

  • Wear rubber boots, gloves and masks to clean up. Wash clothes used for cleaning on a separate cycle from your other clothes.
  • Clean all hard surfaces (e.g. walls, floors) with hot water and detergent. Wash soft items (eg clothing, bedding and children's toys) on a 60°C cycle with detergent.
  • Place rubbish in hard bins or in rubbish bags. Dispose of dead rodents and pests in a plastic bag, wearing rubber gloves.

Read more practical advice for protecing and cleaning up your home

Windstorms

The direct dangers to human health from windstorms are individual accidents (being blown over, or struck by flying or falling debris/masonry), road traffic accidents (overturning vehicles, collisions with fallen trees). Injuries can also be sustained preparing for and clearing up after windstorms.

  • The safest place to be during a windstorm is inside a building away from windows.  Vehicles can overturn whilst driving and mobile homes can be blown over or damaged by falling debris.
  • If you must go outside during a windstorm take care when driving or walking as there is danger posed by flying debris, falling objects or obstacles such as tree branches on the ground
  • Consider taking alternative transport if you normally cycle. Winds can easily blow you off your bike and cause serious injuries.
  • If the windstorm causes loss of power, do not use petrol or diesel generators or other similar fuel-driven equipment indoors: the exhaust gases contain carbon monoxide, which can kill. Read more about dangers of carbon monoxide (PDF).
  • When cleaning up after a windstorm, be aware of the dangers of further accidents if repairing building damage as injuries from fallen trees or buildings are likely.

More information

Warm yourself with a cup of tea Keep yourself and your home warm

Advice on keeping warm this winter

cat keeping warm on a radiator Heating and energy advice

Keeping your home warm efficiently

Open gas hob flame Carbon Monoxide poisoning

Prepare and protect against Carbon Monoxide poisoning