Feeling poorly? Why so many people have caught the 'worst cold ever'

Watch: Get your flu shot to start your cold and flu prevention strategy

There's a very unpleasant new game you can play in public places – cold or COVID? Is that maskless stranger sneezing beside you suffering from coronavirus or just a bug? And has the colleague hacking like an angry sealion got a seasonal cough, or should she be isolating for the next two weeks?

We've all become hyper-sensitised to symptoms that in previous years, we may have dsimissed as 'just a bad cold.' The first tickle of the throat, or sudden sneeze now has us phoning HR in a panic and wondering if this it, despite being double-vaxxed.

Of course, the problem is, it could be. Even the vaccinated can still catch a milder version of coronavirus, and after 18 months of lockdowns, isolating and being pinged, alongside a mass exodus from schools – currently 100, 000 children have been sent home across Britain- it's no wonder we're likely to assume the worst.

Yet while Covid is certainly a possibility, there's also a strong likelihood, currently, that it really is a bad cold. Since the mass return to work, school and university, bugs have been multiplying like rabbits, as COVID restrictions slacken and our strict routines of mask-wearing, hand washing and sanitising are abandoned.

The common cold is laying waste, added to incoming seasonal flu – and the result, on top of COVID, is going to be a nation knee-deep in tissues and Lemsip.

Oh darling, is it man-flu? (Getty Images)

Dr Zoe Watson is a locum GP from North East London, who is all too aware of cold-mageddon.

“Essentially the main reason for this is that we are all having a lot more human face to face contact than we have done in the last 18 months! ” She explains.

“Colds are a part of life – and particularly around this time of year (Autumn coming into winter) which is why the annual flu vaccination programme starts now.

Read more: The Common Cold Versus COVID: A Doctor Explains How to Tell the Difference

“We normally have a bit of natural immunity floating around which would protect us from getting sick constantly – but as we have spent the last 18 months largely isolated from our fellow humans, that natural immunity will have fallen,” says Watson.

“We don’t really tend to hold on to long term immunity from “cold” viruses, so we are more susceptible. It’s much like the dreaded “nursery-itis” that we tend to see in kids as soon as they start nursery around age one two.” She goes on.

One day at nursery and they’re off again… (Getty Images)

“As soon as kids are thrown into mixing with other kids, they come home with what seems like an endless stream of colds and never-ending snotty noses. And it's simply because they don’t yet have that natural immunity which is built up from regular human contact – so as soon as they go to nursery and start having close contact (and often unhygienic contact) with other kids – the viruses strike.”

Like COVID, most cold viruses are airborne, so if someone talks, sneezes or coughs directly at you and you breathe in, it's game over.

Expand this to 'back to the office' and 'freshers week' and it's clear why there's a problem.

Read more: The common cold might protect you from coronavirus – here's how

It makes a lot of sense to keep wearing a mask in crowded places, wash and sanitise your hands regularly, and keep your distance if you can. Pretty much what we were doing until recently, in fact.

If you do have symptoms, the current most common COVID Delta variant indictators are headaches, runny noses, sore throats and sneezing,

“The classic three – cough, fever and anosmia [loss of taste or smell] are rarer these days,” Say Professor Tim Spector, who set up the ZOE app. Currently, one in 95 people have COVID in England – so if you feel under the weather, do a test. You can ask your local pharmacy or access one here.

Meanwhile, over 50s should book a flu jab.

Watch: COVID will end up resembling common cold by spring next year, leading experts say

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