How to avoid getting sick this Christmas - and how to cope if you do!

The time of year is almost upon us; mince pies, Christmas pud, mistletoe and ... norovirus. For many of us, this will be the longest break we get all year - so how can you help to ensure you don't spend it running to the bathroom? We donned our surgical masks and went to investigate ...

What illnesses are you most likely to catch around Christmas?

And no, we don't mean picking up glandular fever at the office Christmas party either. Clearly there's one particular menace that terrorises the majority of workplaces around this time of year - and that's the common cold

Categorised by the NHS as a "mild viral infection of the nose, throat, sinuses and upper airways", the common cold is as incurable as it is annoying. As you may have heard, antibiotics will do literally nothing to shift one of these, so you've more or less got to suffer on through. 

Fortunately, there's little lasting damage the common cold can do to you unless you've got serious complications (in which case you should contact a medical professional) - so the good news is that you're probably going to live through this one champ. 

One (fairly large) step up from the common cold is ... the dreaded flu. Known among doctors as influenza, this bad boy really can kill you - although that's thankfully unlikely unless you're in a high-risk group. If you are in such a group, then you should speak to your doctor about getting the flu jab if you haven't already.

Influenza is not to be confused with so-called 'man flu' - which is a well-known conspiracy. Flu itself will probably be enough to put most people to bed for the duration, so it's actually fairly easy to tell the difference between this and a cold. It isn't nice, that's for sure.

The final suspect in our rogues' gallery of horrible bugs is the not to be messed with norovirus. Norovirus has also garnered the charming and catchy title 'the winter vomiting bug' in the UK, so you can probably guess how you diagnose this one ... 

In addition to the aforementioned vomiting, the delightful norovirus is known to cause diarrhoea - and many people are lucky enough to get a fever and / or headache too. 
Like the cold, there is no quick fix for norovirus - so your best bet is to treat the symptoms with measures like drinking plenty of fluids, and eating plain foods like rice and bread to keep your strength up. 

Norovirus can again be dangerous for people in high-risk groups, so you should seek medical advice if you're concerned about this. As norovirus is fairly contagious, you may prefer to telephone your GP or NHS 111 as a first port of call, to prevent it spreading to other people.

How can you avoid catching a cold at work - or anything else for that matter?

Are you currently sat in an office, listening to one of your colleagues slowly cough up a lung? We know the feeling - and it's VERY frustrating SIMON. 

Passive-aggressive messages aside, getting sick at work right before the biggest holiday of the year isn't something that anyone wants to happen - so short of just not breathing, what can we do about it?

You are what you eat

Ever wonder why certain people don't really get sick, while others seem to be off work nonstop? Well, other than the fact that someone is perhaps telling fibs, some of this is more than just genetic. 

Not only does processed food help you put weight on, it also contains very little in the way of nutrients among all of its added sugars, flavours, and E numbers. As well as making you smell and potentially contributing to depression, this does very little for your immune system

Try eating a little more of the fresh stuff and a bit less pink slime, and you might find that all the extra vitamins and fibre begin to pay off. Hey - it'll help to counterbalance all those festive mince pies if nothing else.

Contrary to popular belief, there is little evidence that vitamin C can prevent colds - although it may slightly reduce their severity.

Wrap up warm

You may have asked yourself whether wearing warm clothes really stops you catching a cold. Well research suggests that it's not time to hang up your hat and scarf just yet - because getting cold does seem to be linked to catching one

While there's little you can do to avoid the ICY BLAST of the office air conditioning, CHERYL, it seems that it might be a good idea to stick on an extra layer or three if you're thinking of braving it and venturing beyond the front door. 

Although there is still debate in the medical community as to the efficacy of staying warm in the battle against the common cold, it's probably still worth doing. For one thing, you'll be a lot more comfortable than if you didn't!

Wash your hands 

If you could see how many germs were sat around your office, you'd probably be cleaning it. See your keyboard? Filthy. The door handle? A death trap. Don't even let's get started on the toilet flush.

As you can see from our infographic, plenty of your colleagues don't wash their hands after they make potty. Not only is this a highly effective way to spread norovirus, it also indicates to us that they are unlikely to do anything about the matter they get on their mitts after they cough and sneeze all over the place, either. This means they're probably spreading cold and flu germs wantonly and with gay abandon.

In short, your office isn't so much dangerous as absolutely lethal. Never mind being a professional stunt performer or lion tamer; accounts assistant is where it's at, baby. Livin' on the edge. 

The only way to stay on the right side of all this certain doom? Wash your hands before you touch your mouth - just like mama told you. 

Should you go into work if you are ill?

This is a good question, and one that you will certainly have asked yourself in the past, if you care about the rest of your team. 

One thing to consider is whether or not you have paid sick days in your contract. While the norm nowadays is to not have this, more generous employers do often include them. This ensures that staff don't have to go without, should they fall ill. If you feel marginal but don't have paid sick days, you may want to consider your bank balance before you pick up the telephone.

Secondly, you should ask yourself how likely it is that you're contagious. Reputedly the most contagious time for a cold is early in its cycle - before it reaches its final form. This means that if you feel like you're coming down with something, it may be an idea to stay off work. If you're pretty sure you've already come down with it, then you'd probably be ok to go in (if you're feeling in any way up to it that is).

Clearly if norovirus strikes, you'll be vomiting (and possibly worse) left, right, and centre, so work will probably be a no-go. Likewise, flu will generally leave you too weak to be an effective employee - so your time will be best spent recuperating with Netflix and a mug of warm soup.

The best remedies for a Christmas cold

Ok, so imagine you're waking up on December 23rd (hooray, two more sleeps!). The office Christmas party is now nothing but a blurry memory (which is probably for the best), and your Secret Santa gift lies forgotten. But wait, something is amiss - your head feels muzzy, and your throat appears to be full of barbed wire ...

It seems that the worst has happened; the sum of all fears. You've contracted a Christmas cold. Fortunately, all is not lost - because Agency Central gon' make it better.

Firstly, you need over the counter remedies - stat. Something with paracetamol to lower your temperature, as well as a good decongestant like pseudoephedrine. This ought to perk you right up. Gargling salty water is an excellent way to combat a sore throat, so make that your next call.

If you haven't got any ready-made remedies in and you don't feel like schlepping to the chemist, then it's time to make your own. Assuming you're not driving anywhere, it's time to crack open the Scotch (we're assuming you've at least got that in!) and make yourself a cocktail ... 

Agency Central's classic Hot Toddy recipe



Honey or brown sugar


Hot (but not boiling) water

Cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

Ground nutmeg


First off - the whisky. As you're going to be mixing this, we'd probably grab a regular old blend, but if you're more adventurous (read: hardcore), then a super-smoky Islay malt like a Laphroaig or an Ardbeg could be fun.

Pour yourself a nice old slug, and add your choice of sweetener - honey or brown sugar both work well. 

Add the cloves and cinnamon stick and stir in the hot (not boiling) water.

Next, grab a lemon wedge, squeeze it over the mixture and plonk it in for good measure.

Give it a stir, top with ground nutmeg, and enjoy.

This should perk you up - but should it fail, feel free to rinse and repeat. It's Christmas after all ... 

Festive disclaimer

As multitalented a team as we are, it's important to state that no one at Agency Central is actually a medical professional - so you should always remember to consult a doctor, pharmacist, or similar if you're unsure about anything. This goes double if you're in a high-risk group.

We should also note that we are advocates of responsible drinking - so go steady with the hot toddies and have a good Christmas!

Written by Matt Atkinson

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