GP shares two winter bugs that could be spreading – and how to avoid them

With the cold weather wearing down your body’s defences against infection and festive gatherings prompting people to flock indoors, winter bugs tend to thrive during this period. A GP has revealed two winter illnesses that are especially prominent in the UK during this time.

Dr Anita Raja, NHS GP based in Birmingham, told “In winter, certain infections such as norovirus and influenza become more widespread. This increase is driven by various factors, including the characteristics of these viruses and heightened indoor proximity during the season.”

Fortunately, the difference between symptoms of norovirus and flu could help you tell these pesky illnesses apart. What’s more, the doctor also shared how to avoid catching these bugs in the run-up to Christmas.


Dubbed the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is highly contagious and leads to severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Dr Raja said: “The virus spreads through contact with contaminated surfaces, food items, or water where the virus may be present.

“Typically, symptoms persist for two to three days. It’s key to stay well hydrated. Make sure you disinfect surfaces. Hand hygiene needs to be of utmost importance.”

However, the GP also noted that you should seek medical help if your symptoms persist beyond three days or if you are struck down by severe diarrhoea and vomiting. “If symptoms worsen, dial 111 for Out-of-Hours services or contact your nearest urgent treatment centre,” she added.


Influenza, better known as the flu, is also a viral illness that spreads through coughing and sneezing, causing significant illness. The GP said: “It’s crucial to prioritise good hand hygiene, disinfect surfaces exposed to coughs or sneezes, use tissues for nasal discharge, dispose of them properly, and thoroughly wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.”

If you still catch the bug, you should try and remain indoors and stay well-hydrated. Dr Raja added: “Use over-the-counter paracetamol to alleviate body aches, pains, or fever. If your condition persists beyond seven days or if symptoms worsen, please contact 111 or visit your nearest urgent treatment centre.”

The difference between flu and the common cold

The doctor shared that the key difference is that cold symptoms often develop gradually, while flu signs tend to strike suddenly. Furthermore, colds typically don’t cause fevers and chills.

The doctor said: “Individuals with a cold might experience mild aches and pains, whereas flu symptoms often involve severe muscular cramps and aches. Sneezing or a runny nose is less common in flu but more prevalent in colds. Additionally, a sore throat is less likely with the flu, yet it’s a more frequent symptom in common colds.”

How to distinguish between flu and Covid infections?

While trying to determine whether you have flu or Covid can be more challenging due to the similarity between their symptoms, there are some key differences, including the onset of illness. The GP said: “COVID-19 symptoms may appear gradually or suddenly, while flu symptoms often have a sudden onset.

“Both can cause fever, cough, fatigue, body aches, sore throat, and respiratory issues. However, COVID-19 might lead to a loss of taste or smell, which is less common with the flu.”

The most reliable and “definite way” to tell Covid apart from the flu is by taking a test. Dr Raja said: “PCR tests can identify the presence of COVID-19, while rapid influenza tests detect the flu.

“During a period of high COVID-19 prevalence, if someone develops flu-like symptoms, seeking medical advice and considering testing becomes essential to pinpoint the exact cause of illness. Timely testing and appropriate precautions are crucial steps in effectively managing and containing the spread of either infection.”

Best way to treat winter bugs

The good news is that you can recover from most winter bugs at home. The GP said: “Recovery from viral infections primarily involves staying hydrated, getting ample rest, using paracetamol for pain relief, and promptly seeking medical attention if symptoms deteriorate. It’s crucial, particularly for vulnerable groups such as the frail, elderly, infants, and those with compromised immune systems, to have a low threshold for seeking medical help. This proactive approach is essential for their well-being.”

Winter bugs that are of viral nature are not susceptible to treatment with antibiotics. Dr Raja added: “Misusing antibiotics for viral infections poses a serious risk of developing antibiotic resistance.”

“This resistance means that when antibiotics are genuinely needed for bacterial illnesses like pneumonia, the standard treatments might not be as effective, necessitating stronger antibiotics for recovery.”

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