The Health Service Executive is reminding the public to look after their health over the Christmas and winter season.

They warn that viral infections become more common at different times of the year, presenting themselves in winter as outbreaks of flu and as the winter vomiting bug. They have said that the infections are dictated by their own life-cycle, which is out of human control.

Respiratory tract infections and norovirus gastroenteritis – better known as winter vomiting – are most common in winter.

According to Dr Vida Hamilton, HSE National Clinical Advisor, people who are fit and healthy can usually weather these infections with bed rest, plenty of fluids and over-the-counter symptom relief.

However, these infections are very contagious so those who are infected need to be very careful of managing their surroundings and who they come in contact with.

Unfortunately, Dr Hamilton has warned that infected people are contagious even before they become symptomatic, so it can be very difficult to prevent spread to loved ones who are not so healthy and fit.

Dr Hamilton advises: “Prevention is much better than cure, even if you are in great health yourself, fit and healthy people have different abilities to fight off infection due to their different genetics. You don’t necessarily know how good your infection fighting genes are until you get a really bad infection.

“How can we prevent infection? Vaccination is the most effective method — tried, tested and very closely monitored for safety and effectiveness.

“The current flu vaccine is a good match for the circulating flu viruses, which is good news.

“Unfortunately, there is no effective vaccine for winter vomiting bug so we are back to good infection control practice. There is also a vaccine recommended for people with chronic disease called the pneumococcal vaccine.

“This vaccine protects vulnerable people from bad pneumonia and meningitis caused by this bug.”

“We know that 20% of patient admissions to hospital are due to chest infections and prevention is always better than cure.

“Handwashing is vitally important as viruses can live for days on surfaces and our hands, then bring the bugs to our faces, which can lead to winter vomiting or flu. Every time you wash your hands you protect yourself.”