Temperatures are forecast to fall in the next couple of weeks and the NHS is urging people to take steps to stay well and help stop the spread of infection this winter.

Washing your hands both regularly and well is the single most important thing you can do to prevent illnesses, such as tummy bugs and flu.

It is particularly important for young children, older people and those who prepare food for them, as the young and elderly are vulnerable to gastroenteritis, including Norovirus (winter vomiting disease), which is common in winter.

Dr Nathan Nathan, Clinical Chair for Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “There are many people with chesty coughs and sore throats this winter and this can make you feel very poorly. Most of these illnesses and flu are caused by viruses and antibiotics have no effect on them. Make sure you get some rest, drink plenty of fluids and you should start to feel better after a week. Call your GP if you feel worse after a few days or start to have pain when you breathe.

“Most people who are being sick or have diarrhoea get better within 24 hours. Make sure you drink plenty of water or rehydration fluids, which are available from pharmacies, to prevent dehydration. Please don’t visit anyone in hospital or a care home if you feel unwell as a bug can be dangerous to vulnerable people.”

If you are coughing, sneezing, have a blocked nose, sore throat, or a temperature and these are your only symptoms, you can ask your pharmacist for advice on which medicines will help.

You can help prevent the spread of illness by using tissues to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, putting them in a bin and washing hands well. Remember the saying – catch it, bin it, kill it.

Cold air can trigger respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath. People with serious long-term conditions, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema) or heart problems should try to stay in when it is very cold outside. Try to keep your home warm, between 18C (56F) and 21C (70F).

If you need to see a doctor, contact your GP practice. When your practice is closed, if you cannot wait until it re-opens, phone Medway On Call Care (MedOCC) on 01634 891855 for the out of hours service.

Minor Injury Units and Walk-in Centres open late, until 8pm or 9pm. Minor Injury Units can treat, for instance, burns, sprains, cuts and foreign bodies in the eye, nose and ear. You can also call NHS Direct on 0845 4647 for advice.

Please keep A&E free for those who really need it.

For information on common winter illnesses and where to go for urgent care, visit www.easternandcoastalkent.nhs.uk/your-health/your-guide-to-urgent-care/

For helpful information about staying well in winter, visit the “Get Ready for Winter Initiative” www.metoffice.gov.uk/getreadyforwinter.