A family walking through a snow covered forest in winter.

In our latest blog, Dr Jim McMenamin, Head of Health Protection (Infection Services) at Public Health Scotland, tells us about some important things to be aware of to make sure that we keep ourselves and others healthy and well during the winter season.


Winter in Scotland is a beautiful time of year, however, the chilly temperatures and darker evenings also signal the start of what can be a particularly challenging time for many and can bring a host of health considerations to be aware of.

There are some helpful things we can all do though to help us get through the festive season feeling safe and well.

Being aware of common winter illnesses

Winter's arrival heightens the risk of common respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold, flu, and COVID-19 as we all start to spend more time together indoors. If you have symptoms of a respiratory infection and feel unwell with this or have a fever, you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people. For example, a runny nose or a mild sore throat should not prevent you from going to work or school unless you feel unwell with this.

Another common illness is norovirus, a stomach bug that can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. We can all help prevent picking up and passing on norovirus by practicing good hand hygiene (which we’ll discuss in more detail below) and minimising contact with others if you have the infection, especially with those who are vulnerable.

It’s useful to plan ahead when feeling well and stock up on essentials, including over-the-counter medicines, tissues, and non-perishable foods, ensuring you're prepared for any unexpected illnesses or adverse weather.

The importance of hand hygiene

Maintaining proper hand hygiene can help protect against numerous common viruses. By keeping our hands clean and encouraging children to practice good hand hygiene as well, we can significantly reduce the transmission of infections during the winter season.

Respiratory hygiene is also important, taking care to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, disposing of tissues responsibly, and promptly washing your hands afterwards, can all help to prevent infections spreading. If you don't have a tissue, use the crook of your elbow rather than your hands to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

Watch this helpful video to find out how to wash your hands properly.

Keeping up to date with vaccines

Vaccines are the best way to protect against a range of viral and bacterial infections, including COVID-19 and flu. If you are invited for a vaccination this winter, please use the opportunity to increase your protection by taking up the offer.

It’s also important to make sure that others in your family up-to-date with their vaccines. This includes checking if everyone has had their MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccines that are offered to young people include the DTP vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and polio, the MenACWY vaccine, which protects against meningitis and septicaemia (blood poisoning), and the HPV vaccine, which can protect against the virus and its potential to cause cancer.

Find out more about all the above vaccines, and how to organise getting them, in the links at the bottom of the page.

Staying warm whilst it’s cold

Cold weather can impact everyone, but certain groups, such as the elderly and those with chronic conditions, may be more vulnerable.

To keep warm in the cold, wear multiple layers, paying attention to extremities like hands and feet, and try not to sit still for too long. Keep the rooms in your home you regularly use adequately heated (at least 18°C if you can). If you’re struggling to heat your home due to financial pressures, or to carry out energy efficiency improvements, there may be support available to help.

For more information visit the Scottish Government’s website.

Maintaining our mental wellbeing and physical activity

Winter can be challenging, so don't forget to look after your mental wellbeing by keeping physically active when you can, eating well with at least one hot meal a day, and maintaining social connections with friends and family.

Getting outside for a walk in the crisp air can do wonders for our mental and physical health. Make sure to wrap up warm and beware of ice on pavements and roads – a pair of shoes with good grip can help when it’s slippery; consider using a walking aid if you’re already a bit unsteady.

When near ponds, lochs, rivers, or canals, do not attempt to walk on ice. Its thickness can be deceptive, and the water can be extremely cold and deep.

More information

We’ll be sharing more helpful tips throughout the winter period on our social media channels using the hashtag #PHSWinterInfo – follow us to make sure you don’t miss any.

For more information on how to help yourself and others stay healthy this winter, visit NHS Inform.

NHS Inform also contains helpful pages on common winter illnesses:

NHS Inform also provides useful information on the following vaccines that are offered in Scotland, including how to arrange them:


Last updated: 07 December 2023