Advertisement Feature - Don't get felled by the flu bug this winter.
There is a direct link between cold weather and serious illness. Each year, as the temperature drops, the mortality rate rises.
As the weather gets colder, we're all more likely to catch colds or flu.
If your body temperature drops during this time, then the risk of heart attack, stroke or breathing difficulties increases. This is especially true for older people, for people of any age with a serious disease or long-term condition, or for those made vulnerable by physical disability or treatment.
The best way to combat the effects of winter is to keep warm and healthy.
Top tips for keeping warm and healthy this winter
1. Get a flu jab
Flu is caused by a virus and is prevalent during winter. For most people flu is an unpleasant experience but for older people and those at risk from the serious consequences, it can cause serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia, often leading to hospitalisation and even death.
If you are 65 or older, or if you are of any age (including children over 6 months of age) and have a serious respiratory condition such as asthma, serious heart, kidney or liver disease, diabetes that requires medication, lowered immunity or any other serious medical condition, you are at risk of flu. This means if you catch flu, there is a greater chance the virus will lead to a more serious, even critical condition. Even if you feel fit and healthy, if you fall into an at risk group or are over 65, you are more vulnerable.
If you are at risk of the serious consequences, you're entitled to a free flu jab. The flu vaccination is the most effective protection against flu and can help you to stay active and well through the winter. The flu jab cannot give you flu. It lasts for up to 12 months and as the flu virus constantly changes, you need a new jab each year. The best time to get vaccinated is in the autumn.
If you are 65 or over or in an at risk group, contact your local GP to book yourself in for a free flu jab. Most doctors organise special vaccination sessions in the autumn.
If you're aged 65 or over, your GP might recommend you have a pneumo jab which protects against serious forms of pneumococcal infection. This is also available to younger people with certain medical conditions.
2. Keep warm, dress well
There's an increased risk of becoming ill if you get cold. To prevent your body temperature from falling, you need to dress properly. At home, wear several thin layers of clothes rather than one thick layer. By doing this your body heat will get trapped between the layers of clothing, keeping you nice and warm. Ideally, your clothes should be made from wool, cotton or fleecy synthetic fibres. Keep warm in bed by wearing socks, a nightcap or scarf around your head, thermal underwear and a warm nightdress or pyjamas.
Outdoors wear several thin layers under your coat rather than one thick layer. Keep your head covered and wear warm, flat, non-slip shoes or boots.
3. Keep warm, eat well
Food is a vital source of warmth. Eat a mixed diet each day, ideally including something from each of the five main food groups (breads, cereals, potatoes; fresh fruit and vegetables; milk and dairy; meat, fish, eggs, peas and pulses; fats and sugars). Keep a stock of food in case you can't get to the shops in very cold weather. Take plenty of hot drinks on cold days. Eat at least one hot meal a day and have a hot drink before bed. Keep a flask by your bed in case you wake up cold in the night. If you are on a special diet, talk to your doctor before you make any changes.
4. Keep warm, keep moving
Staying active is good for your health, whatever the time of year. Moving around generates extra body heat, so any kind of exercise or activity will help you keep warm. Even moderate exercise, such as walking, has real health benefits if you do it regularly all year. Don't stay sitting still for long periods of time. Spread chores out through the day so you can alternate between rest and activity. Keep up any exercise routines and if you are outside in the cold, try to keep moving rather than standing or sitting. Be careful not to take risks in icy weather.
5. Keep warm, heat well
Keep your home warm during winter months. If you can, keep a temperature of 21 C (70 F) in all the rooms you use during the day. If this is not possible, keep your living room warm during the day and heat your bedroom and bed before going to sleep. Use a hot water bottle or electric blanket, but not at the same time. Many electric blankets are designed only to warm the bed before you get in; if yours is like that, remember to turn it off. Keep your bedroom window closed at night and in very cold weather, set the heating to come on earlier instead of turning the thermostat up higher. Set the time on your heating to come on before you get up and switch off when you go to bed.
You could qualify for a grant to make your home warmer, or financial help to meet the cost of heating bills.
Newcastle Warm Zone is a not for profit partnership with Newcastle City Council that aims to ensure all Newcastle residents can afford to heat their home. You will qualify for free cavity wall and/or loft insulation for the following reasons:
You are over 60
On certain benefits
If you are calculated as spending too much of your income on fuel
You live in a council house
If you don't qualify, you can take advantage of the partner scheme, Newcastle Home Energy Savers with cavity wall and loft insulation at pounds 99 each.
Tens of thousands of homes across Newcastle have already benefited from the Warm Zone's services, saving up to pounds 200 plus each year off fuel bills.
Call Newcastle Warm Zone on (0191) 277-7373 and quote reference NWZ/01.
JML Insulation is a new cavity wall and loft insulation company that has been trading for 12 months but owner Melvin John Gordon has worked in the industry for more than 25 years. Work comes with a 25 year Ciga guarantee. Call an adviser: 0191 489 8090.
6. Keep warm, heat safely
If you have an open coal fire, try to keep the grate filled to a depth of three or four inches (75 to 100 mm) of fuel. Use the air control to set the burning rate and place a guard in front of the fire. If you have glass-fronted solid fuel fires, fill firebox to the top and let thermostatic air control manage the heat.
Carbon monoxide kills more than 50 people each year in England and Wales ( mainly because of incorrectly installed and poorly maintained cooking and heating equipment. Keep rooms well ventilated when using an appliance. Do not use gas cookers for heating. Do not sleep in a bedroom with a paraffin heater or a gas fire without a flue. Fit a carbon monoxide alarm that meets British or European Standards. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to food poisoning, viral infections or flu. They include headaches, tiredness, difficulty in thinking clearly and feeling sick. If you suffer from these symptoms, see your doctor immediately and call an engineer to check all appliances.
7. Keep warm, plan ahead
Check your heating system is working properly and serviced at least once a year. Some gas or electricity suppliers offer free safety checks. Remember to have your chimney swept at least once a year and don't block up any airbricks in your walls. Have all gas and fossil fuel appliances serviced regularly by trained, reputable, registered engineers. Fit draught-proofing to help seal gaps around windows and doors. Insulate your property to reduce heat loss and lag your hot water cylinder and pipes, including those in your loft.
8. Keep warm, with financial support
There are a number of organisations offering financial support:
The Warm Front Scheme runs in England and gives grants worth up to pounds 2,700 to make homes warmer and more energy-efficient. You may qualify if you own your home or rent it from a private landlord, and receive disability benefit or income-related benefit ( like Pension Credit, Income Support or Disability Living Allowance. Call 0800 072 0151.
Winter Fuel Payments will be made by the Government this winter to people aged 60 and over to help with the costs of keeping warm in winter. The amount you receive depends on your age and circumstances, and payments are made over a number of weeks from November 2006. Call the helpline on 08459 15 15 15 (8.30am to 4.30am, Monday-Friday). If you are hard of hearing, use textphone 0845 601 5613. Have your National Insurance number ready. Also go to www.thepensionservice.gov.uk/winterfuel
The Home Heat Helpline 0800 33 66 99 offers advice on cheaper payment schemes, grants for insulating your home, and how to register for extra services and benefits.
9. Stop smoking
If you are a smoker, try to stop. Evidence shows giving up smoking can improve your health, no matter how old you are. Giving up smoking reduces your chances of having a heart attack and improves circulation.
10. Look out for your neighbours
If you have an elderly neighbour or relative, keep an eye out for them in the winter months. If the curtains aren't opened during the day, or there are no lights on in the evening, there may be something wrong. If you think there are serious grounds for concern, call emergency services on 999.
11. What to do if you do fall ill
If you go down with flu during the winter, you should: stay at home and rest; take plenty of non-alcoholic drinks to replace the fluid loss from sweating; eat what you can. If you live on your own, let a friend, relative or neighbour know you're ill. If you already have a heart or chest complaint, diabetes, or a serious medical condition, contact your GP. If flu symptoms persist or get worse, or you feel chest pains or become short of breath, contact your GP.
A well-stocked medicine chest will help you be prepared for treating coughs, colds, and flu. Some key things to keep include paracetamol and aspirin (not for children under 16 or people with asthma), paracetamol syrup (calpol) or ibuprofen syrup for children, cold and cough remedies and a thermometer. Have enough prescribed medicines to see you through the Christmas and New Year period.
12. For information
Talk to your GP or pharmacist, visit www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk or www.dh.gov.uk, go to NHS Direct Interactive on digital satellite TV, or call NHS Direct on 0845 4647. A free Keep Warm Keep Well Winter Guide is available. Write to DH Publications, PO Box 777, London SE1 6XH or go to www.dh. gov.uk/socialcare