Britons are among the most unhealthy people to be around in the midst of a major flu outbreak, research suggests.
Of five populations studied, people from the UK were the least likely to pay more attention to basic rules of hygiene such as washing hands and sneezing into a tissue.
Scientists carried out surveys in the UK, the US, Argentina, Japan and Mexico soon after the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.
In each country, around 900 people were asked how they had modified their personal behaviour when there was a risk of catching the virus.
Britons were consistently shown to have the most cavalier attitude towards infecting others.
Natural Remedies For Colds And Flu
Garlic is well known for its immune system benefits and is best eaten raw or crushed in soups and hot drinks. Garlic combats snotty noses by releasing a compound called allicin, which is full of anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
If you're struggling to get a good night's sleep, tackle the problem with a stick of celery. Celery contains phthalidesm which has sedative powers and helps the body shut off and rest easy during the night.
A great natural remedy for respiratory disorders as it helps to release mucus from the body. It is also an antispasmodic which helps relax bronchial tubes, clearing the airways. Brew a cup of thyme tea or use it as an oil to treat chesty coughs or emphysema.
Nosebleeds can be a symptom of cold and flu. Prevent this from happening by adding leafy greens to your diet. Packed with Vitamin K, greens fortify sensitive capillaries and help your blood clot quickly if you have a nose bleed.
Jujube tea is rich in Vitamin C and great for the immune system and is widely used for relieving aching throat muscles.
Carrots are ideal for treating cold-induced headaches as they contain beta-carotene, which can reduce inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain. Chop them up and put in a stew, grate them on top of a salad or blend them to create a headache-friendly soup.
We already know that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/11/22/eating-protein-instead-of-sugar-keeps-you-awake_n_1107273.html?ref=uk-lifestyle" target="_hplink">proteins are best for boosting mid-afternoon energy slumps</a>, and they work just as well with energy-zapping colds and flu. A handful of raw nuts helps give the body a well needed energy boost, especially almonds and walnuts.
When the flu bug strikes, chances are the lack of sleep, appetite and constant nose blowing will begin to wear you down. Lavender is great for calming the nerves and relieving feelings of anxiety and stress. Use either dried lavender to scent the room or apply lavender oil on your pulse points for an instant calming boost.
A low immune system can lead to weakened digestive system. Strengthen it by using pineapple which helps reduce intestinal inflammation and speeds the breakdown of protein, reducing gas and discomfort.
In particular, they were less likely to take extra care about coughs and sneezes, hand washing, travelling on public transport, and keeping away from people with flu symptoms.
Only 27% of British people questioned said that when swine flu was sweeping the country they covered their mouth or nose with a tissue more frequently when sneezing or coughing.
This compared with 61% of Americans, 77% of Mexicans, 64% of Argentinians and 48% of people in Japan who said they made an increased effort to cover up.
Just over half (53%) of Britons said they washed their hands more frequently, or used a hand sanitiser, compared with 72% of US citizens, 86% of Mexicans, 72% of Japanese and 89% of Argentinians.
People from the UK were also the least willing to avoid hugging or kissing members of their family or friends during the pandemic.
Only 2% of Britons said they followed this strategy, which was adopted by 46% of Mexicans, 21% of Americans and 19% of Argentinians. The question was not asked in Japan, where hugging and kissing is not the cultural norm.
The results were published today in The Lancet medical journal.
"Research has found no evidence that vitamin C prevents colds," says Dr Hasmukh Joshi, vice-chair of the Royal College of GPs. In 2007, the authors of a review of 30 trials involving 11,000 people concluded that, "regular ingestion of vitamin C has no effect on common cold incidence in the ordinary population". A daily dose of vitamin C did slightly reduce the length and severity of colds. When it comes to flu, one person in three believes that taking vitamin C can cure the flu virus. It can't. "Studies found that vitamin C offers a very, very limited benefit," says Dr Joshi. "I wouldn't recommend it." Information from <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/coldsandflu/Pages/Preventionandcure.aspx" target="_hplink">NHS Choices</a>.
The root, seeds and other parts of echinacea plants are used in herbal remedies that many people believe protect them against colds. There have been a number of studies into echinacea's effect, but no firm conclusions. A review of trials involving echinacea showed that, compared with people who didn't take echinacea, those who did were about 30% less likely to get a cold. However, the studies had varying results and used different preparations of echinacea. It's not known how these compare with the echinacea in shops. This review also showed that echinacea did not reduce the length of a cold when taken on its own. "There is a belief that echinacea aids the immune system, but a survey of studies in 2005 showed that it did not," says Dr Joshi. "I wouldn't recommend that it helps, but if people believe it, they can take it. There's no harm in it." Information from <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/coldsandflu/Pages/Preventionandcure.aspx" target="_hplink">NHS Choices</a>.
There is some evidence that taking zinc lozenges as soon as cold symptoms appear may reduce how long a cold lasts. However, some trials have found no difference in the duration of colds in people who took zinc compared with those who did not. There has also been research into nasal sprays containing zinc. "Some people believe that the zinc lines the mucosa [the lining of the nose] and stops a cold virus attaching itself to the nose lining," says Dr Joshi. "Unfortunately, this has been found to be no more effective than a placebo." Information from <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/coldsandflu/Pages/Preventionandcure.aspx" target="_hplink">NHS Choices</a>.
Getting cold or wet
The only thing that can cause a cold or flu is a cold or flu virus. Getting cold and/or wet won't give you a cold. However, if you are already carrying the virus in your nose, it might allow symptoms to develop. A study at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff found that people who chilled their feet in cold water for 20 minutes were twice as likely to develop a cold as those who didn't chill their feet. The authors suggest that this is because some people carry cold viruses without having symptoms. Getting chilled causes blood vessels in the nose to constrict, affecting the defences in the nose and making it easier for the virus to replicate. "Getting a cold from going out in the cold or after washing your hair is a myth," says Dr Joshi. "Colds are common. If the virus is already there and then you go out with wet hair and develop symptoms, it's common to think that is what caused it." Information from <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/coldsandflu/Pages/Preventionandcure.aspx" target="_hplink">NHS Choices</a>.
So what does work?
The flu vaccine can prevent you from catching flu. Apart from that, the best way to protect yourself from colds and flu is to have a healthy lifestyle. "Eat a healthy diet, take regular exercise and drink plenty of warm drinks in the winter months," says Dr Joshi. "The important thing to remember is that most people are going to catch a cold in winter anyway, because there is no effective cure for cold viruses." Information from <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/coldsandflu/Pages/Preventionandcure.aspx" target="_hplink">NHS Choices</a>.
Lead researcher Dr Gillian SteelFisher, from the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, said: "The wide variations between countries in our study shows that in the event of another serious outbreak of infectious disease, public perceptions have to be taken into account to best tailor and communicate policy approaches that need public support in each country.
"Our findings suggest that promoting non-pharmaceutical interventions - such as handwashing and avoiding large public gatherings of people - do not jeopardise the adoption of vaccination, though the uptake of vaccines was low compared to other behaviours in all countries we surveyed.
"To maximise the effect of pandemic policies, future efforts might need to combine vaccination programmes with support for the most effective non-pharmaceutical interventions."
In a linked comment, Professor Alison Holmes, from Imperial College London, wrote: "Providing an effective response to emerging infectious disease remains a pressing global health challenge. Governments and international organisations have to promptly implement feasible and proportionate health protection measures, while accepting the limitations of the scientific evidence used to underpin those measures.
"Establishing which protective behaviours are effective is not sufficient - we need to understand how populations make sense of recommendations and adopt them."
The survey also showed that people in Mexico and Japan were the most likely to resort to wearing facemasks in public to avoid catching swine flu.
Masks were worn by 71% of Mexicans, 63% of Japanese, 19% of Argentinians, 11% of Britons, and 8% of Americans.
Just 21% of people from the UK took any steps to avoid being near someone with flu-like symptoms. In contrast, 56% of Americans, 53% of Mexicans, 43% of Argentinians, and 35% of Japanese kept away from ill individuals.
Eleven per cent of Britons travelled on public transport less often during the pandemic, compared with 51% of Mexicans, 35% of Argentinians, 24% of Japanese, and 16% of US citizens.
People in the UK were also among the least likely to get vaccinated against flu. A total of 19% of Britons, 27% of Americans, 33% of Mexicans, 25% of Japanese and 16% of Argentinians had the jab.