Dr Ian Boyd gives us the real facts about cold and flu to build a mighty immune defence this winter

Shot of an attractive man reading his temperature on a thermometer at home

There are plenty of reasons why we look to Dr Google (or increasingly, Dr Facebook) to empower ourselves with health information. Research by Medibank shows that an increasing number of us are turning to the internet and social media to self-diagnose and treat colds and flu. In some cases, this can be a helpful way to seek out advice and tips for feeling better.

However, there is also a lot of misinformation out there. To make sure you're getting the real facts, Medibank Chief Medical Officer Dr Ian Boyd says its essential to look to trusted, professional sources.

"A simple web search for cold and flu advice comes up with a range of different symptoms and cures – some sites even warn of the dangers of flu shots, while others offer less than conventional advice on how to ward off the common cold," Dr Boyd says.

"Preventing and treating these ailments is not rocket science, but people need to get trusted medical advice, and make sure that if their symptoms do persist to make an appointment to see a real-life doctor.”

5 cold and flu facts

Dr Boyd shares the most important things you should know about winter illness.

1. Cold and flu spread easily. Influenza and the common cold are viruses, spread through coughing, sneezing, talking and touching, or by coming into contact with infected surfaces or objects.

2. Understanding cold and flu symptoms. For most healthy adults flu symptoms include fever, headaches, coughing, sore throat and aching joints – but they can be far more serious and even fatal, especially for the very young or the very old.

3. The flu vaccine is your best line of defence. "Don’t believe the online myths associated with the vaccine such as it can cause you to get the flu, and that you'll still be protected from last year's shot," Dr Boyd says. The flu shot offers your best chance at fighting off the flu, and because influenza viruses change regularly and each year slightly different strains appear, having a flu shot every year is essential. It can take up to two weeks for your immunity to build up fully after the flu vaccine, so make sure you get your shot as early as you can.

4. How to treat cold and flu. "Simple yet effective measures are the best cure for winter ailments," Dr Boyd says. Plenty of bed rest, fluids, and paracetamol to relieve the symptoms of cold and flu are the best treatment.

5. Prevention is better than cure. Healthy eating and regular exercise help to boost immunity and are therefore helpful in preventing cold and flu.

For professional health advice, Medibank members with hospital cover can call a Medibank nurse 24/7 on 1800 644 325