Welcome to our Winter Wellness hub. Here you will find information and advice from our medical community about how you can keep yourself, your whānau and your community well over winter.
Top tips for Winter Wellness
Most people will be able to manage illnesses at home by resting, keeping up their fluids and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen when required. Keep your prescriptions up-to-date, so that if you do get unwell you do not need to leave the house.
Seek help early if you feel you are getting worse, is important to keep the Emergency Department for medical emergencies only.
Immunisation is our best defence against the winter illnesses like flu, childhood illnesses (like measles and whooping cough), and COVID-19.
The flu vaccine is free for people most at risk:
For full eligibility information visit the influenza website. The flu jab is available at most GPs and pharmacies and some other places.
Staying up-to-date with your COVID-19 vaccinations means you are far less likely to get really sick and have to go to hospital if you catch COVID-19. You are also less likely to pass the virus on to other people.
See healthpoint.co.nz for when and where to go for your vaccinations.
The MMR vaccine, given on-time, is the best way to prevent measles. It is available free in New Zealand to people born on/after 1 January 1969. Two doses of the MMR vaccine is 99% effective in preventing measles.
Talk to your GP or Hauora provider or local pharmacy about getting the MMR vaccine.
In New Zealand, the pertussis vaccine for whooping cough is part of the NZ Immunisation Schedule. It is a course of 3 injections that are given at ages 6 weeks, 3 months and 5 months. Two booster doses are then given at ages 4 years and 11 years. These vaccinations are all free.
The protection you get from vaccination does reduce over time, so check with your healthcare provider if you are not sure whether you might need a booster injection. Read more about the pertussis vaccine for whooping cough.
Good habits like washing our hands and wearing a face mask indoors can help to reduce further spread of the virus in the community.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze (or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand) and also show your children how to do this. Place used tissues straight in the bin.
Wash your hands well and regularly with soap and warm water as it greatly reduces the risk of spreading viruses.
Well balanced meals will help you stay healthy. There is some great advice and resources available on the Ministry of Health website.
Quick tips include:
- Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
- Choose foods that are low in salt with little or no added sugar
- Fresh food is better for you than overly processed foods
- A hot meal will help keep you warm
- Drink hot drinks regularly to warm you up from the inside
- Choose foods with unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats
Staying active, even in colder weather, is an important step to maintaining your overall health and wellbeing. When we exercise (even for short periods) we release endorphins which are the body's feel good hormones that relieve stress and can improve your mood.
When you can, get out in the sun, rug up the kids in warm clothes and take them to the park or a walk around the block.
Try to move around at least once every hour rather than sitting still for long periods.
Don’t over do it, cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. Remember your body is already working hard just to stay warm.
Read more here
It’s important to take care of yourself to get the most from life. General advice for looking after your advice includes:
- Talking about your feelings
- Keep active
- Eat well
- Drink sensibly
- Keep in touch with friends and whānau
- Ask for help
- Do something you are good at
- Take a break when you need to
- Accept who you are
- Care for others
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that's related to the change of season from summer to winter, and which affects people through the winter months.
For some, SAD may be mild and doesn’t interfere too much with their daily functioning. But for others SAD is seriously disabling and prevents them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment.
If you think you are experiencing SAD, talk to your doctor. Treatment may be as simple as staying out in the sun for a time each day, or it may mean being treated for depression through the winter months.
In cold weather it is easy to become ill, but there are a number of things you can do to prepare and keep your home warm and dry.
- Close your curtains just as the sun goes down to capture the heat in your home
- Stop cold air coming in around windows and doors with draught proofing
- Open your windows for 20 minutes a day to let fresh air in and damp air out
- Open kitchen and bathroom windows, especially during and after cooking, showering and bathing
- Dry your washing outside instead of hanging it inside or using a clothes dryer
- Wipe water off windows to help reduce water in your home
For more tips see here
What we expect to see this winter:
COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities.
To reduce the chance of catching it you can wear a mask when it is harder to keep your distance from others, keep up good hygiene practices, stay home if you are unwell and get all boosters you are eligible for.
Even if you have already had COVID-19 it is important to remain vigilent to protect yourself from other strains of the virus and protect those who are more vulnerable.
The flu virus affects your whole body. Symptoms come on suddenly and can include fever, chills, muscle aches, runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, and stomach upsets. It can keep you in bed for a week or more.
Flu can give you pneumonia and in severe cases means a hospital stay – particularly if you’re older, a young child, pregnant, or have an ongoing medical condition, such as heart disease or diabetes. Sometimes the flu can be fatal – around 500 people die from the flu every year, with hundreds more hospitalised.
Influenza (flu) can sometimes be confused with the common cold, but having the flu is usually much worse than having a cold. Flu is very infectious and easily spread to other people. Around 1 in 4 New Zealanders are infected with influenza each year. Of these, up to 80% may have no symptoms, yet are able to pass it on to other people.
Your best protection for yourself and your whānau is to have a flu vaccination each year.
Influenza is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not help treat the flu.
RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)
RSV is a common winter virus that affects people of all ages, but can be very serious for young babies.
Most adults and older children with RSV will experience symptoms similar to the common cold, including:
- a runny nose
- coughing or sneezing
- wheezing and difficulty breathing
- loss of appetite or difficulty feeding due to breathlessness.
Young babies, those born prematurely and children with underlying health issues can become very sick from RSV and may require urgent hospitalisation. If you are concerned about pēpi/baby, especially if they show any of these signs, take them to a doctor, after hours care centre, or the emergency department immediately so they can receive the care they need.
Signs your baby needs medical care are:
- Audible wheezing sounds
- Breathing very fast
- Laboured breathing — the ribs seem to suck inward when the child breathes in
- Seems very unwell
- Sluggish or lethargic
RSV can affect people of all ages. Most cases are mild and can be treated with rest at home. Staying home, getting lots of rest and ensuring you drink plenty of fluids can help ease the symptoms. Hospital treatment for RSV is focused on helping children with their breathing (for example, giving them oxygen) and feeding (for example, administering fluids through a feeding tube).
Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in humans. Measles is now the third most common vaccine-preventable cause of death among children throughout the world.
Complications from measles are common. The measles virus suppresses the immune system, lowering the body’s ability to fight other infections, for several years after infection. The risk of complications and death is greater in children under five years and adults over 20 years of age.
Common complications include ear infections, diarrhoea, and pneumonia.
Read more about Measles and the MMR vaccine here.
Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is an infectious disease that causes coughing and difficulty breathing. It can be very serious in young babies. They can catch whooping cough from family/whānau members so make sure you, your older children and extended family are up-to-date with vaccinations.
Key points about Whooping cough:
- Whooping cough causes bouts of coughing – each bout may last for 2 or 3 minutes. The cough may go on for 3 months.
- It can cause serious illness and sometimes death in babies, young children and older adults.
- It is usually milder in older children and adults but is still distressing.
- Whooping cough spreads very easily from person to person.
- Vaccination reduces your chance of getting whooping cough and makes the illness milder in those who get it.
Read more about Whooping cough here.
A cold is a common viral infection that affects your head and chest. Even though it can make you feel miserable, it is not a serious condition and can usually be treated at home. Cold symptoms develop slowly and usually last 1–2 weeks.
Because a cold is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t help (they kill bacteria, not viruses). However, there are things you can do to make you feel better including rest and drinking lots of fluids and you may feel better with medicines such as paracetamol, nose drops or sprays, cough syrups and drops, throat lozenges and decongestants. Some are not suitable for children, babies and pregnant women. Vitamin C does not prevent colds, but may reduce the symptoms once you’ve caught a cold.
For most people, a cold will not lead to any more serious illness. Sometimes, however, you might get a bacterial infection after a cold, such as an ear infection or a sinus infection. Read more here
Managing illness at home
Symptoms of flu, COVID-19 and other viruses can vary widely. Some people have mild symptoms while others, such as older people and people with high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes or obesity, may feel very unwell or notice their symptoms start to get worse.
Most people will be able to manage illness at home by resting and taking care of themselves including:
- Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Taking paracetamol/ibuprofen as directed to reduce aches, pain and fever. Please check with the pharmacist or doctor if ibuprofen is okay for you to take if you are taking other medicines.
- Taking honey or lozenges for a sore throat or decongestants for a blocked nose.
- Continuing to take your regular medications.
- Monitoring your symptoms so you notice any changes. Keep a record of your temperature, how you are feeling, your heart rate,breathing rate and any new symptoms you develop.
- Avoid strenuous exercise or high impact activities until you have recovered.
Managing your child’s illness at home
Mananging your child’s illness is similar to managing your own. If your child has any the symptoms below, please get in touch with your GP or call Healthline on 0800 611 116. In an emergency, always call 111.
- Drinking less than 50 percent of normal fluids over the past 24 hours or significantly reduced urine output/wet nappies.
- Behaviour changes, including irritability or lethargy (decreased responsiveness).
- Difficulty breathing, working harder to breathe by sucking in, under, or in between ribs, or breathing rapidly.
- Fever that lasts more than five days.
Seek help early
If you feel your symptoms are getting worse call ahead to stop the spread.
- Call your GP for a phone consultation or your local pharmacy.
- Call Healthline 0800 611 116 to speak to a registered nurse. This is a free service open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If anyone shows any of the following signs call 111:
- Is struggling to breathe, is too breathless to speak a sentence, or is unable to walk more than five steps due to breathlessness.
- Is unconscious or unresponsive, has severe dizziness, fainting or is confused.
- Has collapsed.
- Has abnormal skin colour, is blue, or a purple spotty rash, or they are cold or clammy.
- Has chest pain, or severe or unexplained pain not helped by paracetamol or ibuprofen
- Is coughing up blood.
- Has stopped passing urine.