Colds, flus and vaccines: Dr Ross Walker answers your top 5 questions

Jun 17, 2021
Although you can develop cold symptoms any time of the year, they are clearly much more common in the colder months. Source: Getty

It’s often been said that man might be able to put a space rocket on the moon but he still cannot cure the common cold or flu. Well, you’ll be happy to hear that we may be closer to ridding the planet of these annoying scourges. This is because Covid-19 has sparked intense research into anti-viral therapy in many laboratories around the world. (It’s nice to hear of an advantage to the current pandemic for a change, isn’t it?)

There are, however, many misconceptions around viral illnesses, especially respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold, influenza and Covid-19. Below are the answers to five questions I am often asked about these illnesses.

1) I had the flu vaccine but later on still experienced a fever, sore throat and runny nose that lasted for a few days. Why didn’t the vaccine work?

When a person says they have the flu, this is typically not the case, and in fact they have the common cold. The flu refers to influenza, which is a different type of virus that causes a much more severe, serious and prolonged infection. The flu vaccine is specifically for influenza and does not prevent you from developing the common cold.

2) Can the flu vaccine induce influenza?

You cannot develop influenza from the vaccine, but you may have an immune reaction, which can be flu-like in its symptoms, but is much milder than influenza itself. It is not an infection and it typically lasts only a few days after the vaccination.

3) I was very sick but my doctor refused to give me antibiotics. My prior general practitioner used to give me antibiotics when I had a cold and I seemed to get better. Why can’t I be given antibiotics now?

Antibiotics are completely unnecessary and actually harmful for people suffering the common cold or influenza. They are only useful if there is a proven bacterial infection following a throat swab or sputum culture. If you improved previously with antibiotics, you were either suffering a bacterial infection, it was acting as a placebo, or just pure coincidence (i.e. you were getting better regardless through your own healthy immune system).

4) If I’ve had the Covid-19 vaccine, will this prevent all other respiratory tract infections?

The only other infections the Covid-19 vaccine may prevent are other coronaviruses. One third of the common cold is one of the weaker coronaviruses, and although there are no research papers to support this as yet, the Covid-19 vaccine may be an effective preventative for these causes of the common cold.

5) Are there any proven treatments for the common cold?

Although the common cold is not life-threatening, it certainly disrupts your life, makes you feel dreadful for a few days and is an extremely common cause of workplace absence. The common cold is significantly contagious and typically causes a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, moderate fevers and a few days of feeling unwell. Although you can develop cold symptoms any time of the year, they are clearly much more common in the colder months.

There are no current, specific treatments for the common cold, but there is a reasonable evidence base around the following treatments if you feel a cold starting to occur. At worst, these suggestions are a small waste of your time and money. At best, they may reduce the length and severity of the infection.

  • High-dose vitamin C (A study from Finland using high-dose vitamin C of 6-8 grams daily for a few days showed a significant reduction in the severity and length of a cold). You can find vitamin C and zinc capsules on our Starts at 60 Marketplace, here.
  • High-dose echinacea. You can read more about echinacea, here.
  • High-dose garlic. You can read more about garlic, here.
  • Zinc lozenges.

In my opinion and experience, one or a combination of all of the above are safe and should be used for a few days at the onset of symptoms, until relief. The common cold is an imposition rather than a serious illness, so it’s probably not that bad to challenge your immune system with minor viruses every now and then – purely to keep it on its toes.

Want to read more from Dr Ross Walker? Head here.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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