What are 'super colds' and how can we protect ourselves against them?

Watch: Dr Keith Reid from Swansea Bay University Health Board gives tips on protecting yourself from so-called 'super colds'.

After 18 months of varying restrictions on our lives to limit the spread of Covid-19, many of us may have forgotten what it is like to have a bout of the 'common cold'.

Social distancing, mask wearing and meeting outside have all limited our contact with various diseases and infections.

Our immunity to various other respiratory diseases is therefore generally lower than before the pandemic, so many people are now reporting so called 'super cold' symptoms when they get their first minor illness in a long time.

Medical experts say a person's risk of death is much higher if they contract both Covid-19 and flu. Credit: PA

Why is this happening?

According to new research from pharmaceutical firm GSK, one in two adults have been impacted by a minor ailment in the last six months that has forced them either to stay in bed, take time off work or cancel their social plans.

Alongside higher Covid-19 rates, one of the consequences of the relaxation of pandemic restrictions in recent months has been the increase in rates of people getting colds and flu, and many people are reporting more serious symptoms when they do catch a cold.

As winter approaches, health professionals are now warning that flu levels could be twice as high this year as during a normal flu season due to colder and damper weather providing ideal conditions for airborne respiratory conditions to spread in the community.

As restrictions ease and social contact increases, so too do rates of other illnesses. Credit: PA Images

"Flu was non-existent in autumn and winter 2020 as lockdowns, mask wearing and increased hand hygiene stopped it and other winter bugs from spreading from person to person," Dr Keith Reid from Swansea Bay University Health Board said.

"We have been expecting to see flu come back this year and potentially at levels up to twice as high as a normal flu season.

"People were simply not exposed to flu and other seasonal viruses last year, so the level of immunity in the community is likely to have dropped and people will be susceptible. 

The health board is warning that those infected with both flu and Covid are more than twice as likely to die as someone with Covid alone.

"While no vaccine can offer 100% protection, the flu vaccine remains our best defence against this nasty virus", Dr Reid added.

How can we protect ourselves against flu and 'super colds'?

The flu vaccines now available in the UK offer protection against two A and two B strains of flu.

While some people will only experience mild flu symptoms, it can cause serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, which may lead to hospital admission.

In addition to vaccination, Swansea Bay university health board is advising people to take the following simple hygiene precautions to help reduce the spread of winter viruses:

  • Always sneeze or cough into a tissue, bin it and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, particularly after blowing your nose and before eating.

  • Wear a face covering in all indoor public places, hospitals and on public transport if you are over the age of 11.

  • Stay home if you have symptoms consistent with Covid-19 and arrange a test.

Other common suggestions for keeping yourself safe include eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, exercising and even safely trying out cold water water swimming.

The pharmaceutical firm GSK says despite a possible heightened sensitivity to minor illnesses, less than half of people are going to see a pharmacist for support on minor ailments.

Instead, according to a survey by Research Without Barriers, nearly one in four people are going to their GP for a minor ailment when they could be seeing a pharmacist who can offer clinical advice and over the counter medicines for a range of minor illnesses.Read more: