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Thursday, 6 January, 2000, 16:25 GMT
Tackling the misery of flu

Flu There are many treatments for flu

Before the winter is out, it is thought one in four of us will have had flu or a similar virus. But how can we really tell we have the flu rather than a severe cold - and are we spending too much on over the counter remedies, without really knowing what we should be buying to help ourselves recover. BBC consumer affairs reporter Karen Bowerman investigates.

There is often confusion over whether we have a bad cold or flu.

Flu nightmare
In fact, its thought around 30% of people who claim to have influenza, actually don't - though they probably still have flu-like illnesses which cause aching joints, headaches, tiredness and loss of appetite.

Most of us who do get flu recover after a couple of weeks.

Many of us don't even see a doctor, but in our desperation to treat ourselves, and get better quickly, there are fears we could end up buying remedies we don't actually need - or ones which contain similar ingredients.

This could even mean, that in some cases, we are overdosing on medicine.

This year's outbreak of flu has already boosted sales of analgesics such as paracetamol - they have risen by more than 16%.

One chemist in Greater Manchester sold more headache and stomach remedies over Christmas and New Year, than it usually sells in a month.

The cost of self-treatment
Aspirin/paracetamol - 3
Lemsip sachets (pkt of 10) 3
Cough Mixture 125ml 3
Throat pastilles 2
Tissues 70p
Soluble Vitamin C 3
Total approx 15

Buy one product, not several

Roger Odd, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society suggests it is better to buy one cold relief product than a variety - even though we may think several increases our chances of recovery!

He said taking such a mixture could mean we are actually overdosing on ingredients, such as paracetamol or aspirin, which could be potentially dangerous.

Curry Curry is tipped as a cure for colds and flu
He said: "Just take one product, rather than trying to mix them all.

"For example, if you take Day Nurse and still have aches and pains, and so decide to take something else as well, you are probably taking more than you should."

There is not necessarily a need to go to the doctor, but Mr Odd does suggest you talk to your pharmacist and decide the best single product to take since there's no need to have a complete chemist shop in your cabinet at home.

Alternative remedies

There are alternative remedies on the market - some of which are still available at your local chemist.

Besides Vitamin C, zinc and garlic are well known to improve the immune system - and they are produced in tablet form.

When it comes to preventative measures, foods rich in calcium should be added to your diet - such as sardines, salmon, almonds, broccoli and green vegetables.

You should try to keep your home and work place well ventilated, and to get plenty of fresh air.

What about a curry?

If you don't fancy popping pills, one doctor has come up with a new tip - try a curry.

Professor Ron Eccles, the director of the Common Cold Centre at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, says a spicy dish works wonders.

He recommends tucking into a powerful vindaloo or a madras, rather than a korma.

The curry works by making the eyes and nose run, so extra mucus traps the virus!

Professor Eccles said: "The spices can help get rid of germs from the system and at the same time clear the airways."

But you shouldn't wash the curry down with lager - as alcohol counteracts the benefits, because it dehydrates nasal passages!

Other than that you should stay at home and get plenty of rest.

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See also:
05 Jan 00 |  Health
'No risk of flu epidemic'
18 Nov 99 |  Health
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer
02 Nov 99 |  Health
Spray could cut cold misery

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