The Winter war – understanding colds and flu this winter

As we find ourselves in the midst of one of the coldest winters in Botswana, as the chill hits us, the sneezing, coughing, stuffiness, headaches, aches and pains start making their appearance. As we sit with our box of tissues, snuggled under a blankie, remembering when we could breathe through both nostrils, we wonder “do I have the flu or do I have a cold… either way when will it end?”

Even though these two dreaded winter wars are equally frustrating it is very important that we are able to distinguish between the two and when to let nature run its course versus consulting with your family doctor.

Firstly, both colds and the flu are caused by viruses and therefore do NOT require antibiotics.  Secondly, colds tend to be less severe than the flu with symptoms being less intense and colds resolving faster. Thirdly, flu can result in serious health complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, sepsis, etc that require hospitalisation. 


There are no medicines that can CURE either a cold or flu, but there are over the counter medications that can offer symptomatic relief in addition to making sure that you stay warm, hydrated and well rested. These include multi-symptoms cold and flu tabs, analgesia, decongestants and lozenges. However, if you develop any of the following red flags, please visit your family doctor as soon as possible:

  • Persistent fever with/without severe body weakness
  • Painful swallowing 
  • Persistent coughing with/without difficulty breathing
  • Persistent congestion with/without difficulty breathing
  • Persistent headaches with/without dizziness
  • Confusion

Additionally, while any one of us – young or old, male or female – can contract a cold or the flu, people with asthma or sinusitis, children and the elderly, as well as those who are immunosuppressed are more likely to end up fighting “The Winter War”.  

And even though both colds and flu are somewhat inevitable, there are some prevention strategies that we can undertake:

  • Getting the Flu vaccine
  • Keeping warm especially when going outside
  • Keeping hydrated
  • Avoiding people who are ill
  • Upping your Vitamin C intake.

With that said, whip out those winter coats, scarves and boots, while sipping on a warm cuppa tea or coffee and enjoy these few winter days of our mostly summer year!

By YourBotswana writer: Dr. Noorain Lottering-Kokabi, BMSc, MBBS (UWI MONA) – 23 June 2019

3 months ago

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