The 5 most Googled January health questions – answered by doctors

Flu season is raging on (Alamy/PA)
Flu season is raging on (Alamy/PA)

For many of us, January is a month of health – maybe you’re ditching booze, doing Veganuary, or heading to the gym a bit more.

It’s also still winter, with flu season raging on and worries about catching the dreaded lurgy at an all-time high – and these concerns are reflected in the health questions we’ve been Googling in January so far.

These are the top health-related questions we’ve been searching for this year, answered by doctors…

1. How long does Covid last?

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We wouldn’t be surprised if this was the top health question for the previous two years too – and Dr Brian Fisher, clinical director at wellness app Evergreen Life (evergreen-life.co.uk), has the answer.

“In most cases, Covid infections usually last around one to two weeks, depending on the severity,” he says. “For cases on the higher end of this severity, you’re looking at around a month or longer for recovery.”

There are also cases of long Covid – where symptoms lasts longer than 12 weeks – with the ONS estimating this affects between 3% and 12% of people with Covid.

“In that case, it’s very difficult to say how long the symptoms can last, even after all tests give you the all clear,” Fisher explains. “These symptoms can range from constant fatigue and nausea to damage to your heart and lungs, so if you feel like your Covid is lasting, see your doctor as soon as you can.”

2. Is tonsillitis contagious?

To answer this question, Dr Jay Verma, a GP and co-founder of Data Care Solutions (datacaresolutions.co.uk), first explains what the condition is: “Tonsillitis is an inflammation of the tonsils, which are found at the back of the throat. It can be caused by a viral infection or a bacterial infection, such as a Group A Streptococcal infection.”

So is it contagious? “Tonsillitis itself is not contagious: what is contagious is the organism which caused the inflammation. The effects, such as a sore throat or pain when swallowing, are the symptoms,” Verma explains. Other symptoms include a high temperature, coughing, a headache and fatigue.

If your symptoms are severe and do not go away after four days, Verma advises calling your GP.

“It is important that if you or your family members have symptoms, that you stay at home and avoid contact with other people until you feel better,” he adds. “Because viruses and bacteria are spread in a variety of ways, such as airborne droplets from coughs and sneezes, it is easier to avoid catching something if the person with the disease takes steps to avoid putting others at risk.”

3. How many calories should I eat a day?

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This one doesn’t have a clear-cut answer, with Dr Kathryn Basford, ASDA Online Doctor (onlinedoctor.asda.com), saying: “The suggested daily calorie intake differs from person to person based on several factors. Your age, your lifestyle, your height and weight are all factors to consider, and sometimes medications and health conditions can cause you to burn energy more or less quickly. However, in general, the recommended number of calories to consume for women is set at 2000, while 2500 are suggested for men.

“This is a generalisation though, so it is always important to consider things like your build and daily activity levels,” she adds. “There are calculators available online to help you figure out your ideal calorie intake, or if you’re not sure your GP will always be able to advise.”

Plus, the kind of calories you consume matters. “Eating well and choosing the right foods is equally just as important,” Basford explains. “Try to avoid ’empty calories’ from items high on the glycaemic index. These include soft drinks, pastries and sweets, which often have high levels of saturated fats, and won’t keep you feeling full for long. Instead, go for nutrient-high foods that are lower on the glycaemic index, such as fruits, carrots, beans and lentils, which release energy over a longer time and will prevent hunger pangs.”

4. How long does flu last?

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“With the flu, it usually only takes around a week or so for the illness to pass, with some symptoms lingering for another week or two in particularly harsh cases,” suggests Fisher. “While most people won’t feel any long-lasting effects of the virus, if your symptoms aren’t improving or getting worse, it’s important to contact your doctor. Remember it is not unusual for coughs to continue for some weeks.”

If you want to alleviate your symptoms, Fisher recommends: “Resting, taking medicines to reduce temperature and staying hydrated. Staying warm can also help, as viruses thrive in colder temperatures. Brothy soups, especially with a low salt content, can help as well. Not only is it easy on your throat, but full of nutrients, warming, and also hydrating.

“If you have a particularly bad cough with your flu, taking a teaspoon of honey or drinking tea with honey in it can help to reduce the symptoms; it eases throat pain (however this is something you shouldn’t give to children under 12 months old).”

5. What is Strep A?

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It’s unsurprising this question made the top five, as Strep A has been in the news this winter, with the UK Health Security Agency reporting an “out of season increase in scarlet fever and group A streptococcus infections and a higher number of cases than seen in a typical year” at the end of 2022.

“Group A streptococcus is a bacteria that can cause a number of mild infections, most commonly sore throat and skin infections like impetigo,” explains Basford. “It can also cause scarlet fever, which gives a sore throat, high temperature, and distinctive sandpaper-like skin rash. Rarely it can lead to more severe infections, called invasive group A strep, where the infection can get into the blood or the lungs.”

It’s “highly contagious and can spread quickly”, she says, and is “easily spread amongst young children, as like other bacterial infections Strep A can be passed through coughs, sneezes and skin-to-skin contact”.

Basford continues: “Contact your local GP if you or your child are feeling unwell and you are worried about Strep A. Look out for signs that your child is getting worse, like a high temperature that doesn’t go down, or not drinking or going to the toilet as much as usual. And if you or your child continue to be unwell for more than a few days, or experience extreme symptoms like difficulty breathing, or become unresponsive or floppy, then seek urgent medical care.”

Google data gathered between January 1-9.