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Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors have noticed prolonged periods of infections and official figures have shown an increase in the frequency of illness. To expand, figures from the College’s research and surveillance centre show that the rates of lower and upper respiratory tract infections are well above the average usually seen so far in winter. Such findings have been echoed in the weekly data provided by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Professor Hawthorne said: “It’s not clear why some of the current respiratory infections going around do seem to be lasting longer than usual.
“This has been noticed by doctors as well as patients, but we are not entirely sure why this is happening.”
The professor speculated it could be due to the past two winters being more socially isolated due to Covid restrictions.
“This appears to have reduced [people’s] resistance to infections,” said Professor Hawthorne.
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As for the seemingly continuous infections, Professor Hawthorne suggests “it may be a matter of picking up one infection after another”.
She expanded: “They are all different and getting over one type of infection does not give immunity against another one.”
Professor Hawthorne encourages people to “do what they can to keep themselves well this winter”.
Her tips include to practise “good public hygiene, such as regular handwashing, or using gels if that isn’t possible”.
Most people who are suffering from a cough, due to the common cold, will recover without specialist medical attention.
Professor Hawthorne’s go-to advice is to take paracetamol for a high temperature, sore throat, or earache, to keep warm and hydrated, and to get plenty of rest.
“We’d encourage patients to understand that giving antibiotics for viral infections will not help, as they only help with bacterial infections,” she added.
Professor Hawthorne clarified that “most upper respiratory tract infections are due to viruses”.
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While viral infections do clear up on their own, there are instances when seeking medical advice is encouraged.
Such instances include “if a cough is particularly persistent” and/or you are “bringing up discoloured phlegm”.
Also seek medical attention if your cough has “severely worsened with shortness of breath”.
Professor Hawthorne told PA news agency: “Or… if a patient is experiencing chest pain or losing weight for no reason, they should seek a medical opinion.”
GP Dr Andrew Whittamore, the clinical lead at Asthma and Lung UK, told PA news agency how long it takes for a cough to be considered persistent.
“Anybody who’s still coughing four weeks after having Covid [should] really get a chest X-ray and get checked out,” said Dr Whittamore.
This is because Covid could cause “scarring of the lungs and fibrosis” in some people.
Medical attention is also warranted for a long-lasting cough as checks could pick up on cancers and long Covid.
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