COMMON winter illnesses can be avoided with a few simple steps, according to NHS Gloucestershire.

Viruses such as norovirus and flu can ruin Christmas if they strike and health officials are telling the public it is best to be prepared.

Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug which can strike all year round.

It is more common at this time of year and in places such as hospitals where patients tend to be more vulnerable. Although the illness is unpleasant, it is usually over within a couple of days.

As well as norovirus, there are also a number of other common ailments which tend to be worst in the winter months, including seasonal flu.

For some people the cold can also be the trigger for more serious health problems, like pneumonia, heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Shona Arora, director of public health, said one of the best ways of keeping yourself well during winter is to stay warm.

"People with heart or respiratory problems should avoid going outside for long periods in very cold weather, as the cold may cause their symptoms to worsen," she said.

"Seasonal flu can also be a real risk at this time of year, especially for people who might be more prone to complications as a result of the virus.

"I would urge all pregnant women; people aged 65 and over; and anyone with an existing medical condition, like diabetes or heart disease, to make sure they get their free flu vaccination as soon as possible."

More information is available at Top tips for avoiding common winter illnesses: * Wash your hands regularly to destroy bugs.

* Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

* Dispose of used tissues straightaway.

* Make sure you get your free seasonal flu jab.

* Wrap up warm, inside and out, multiple thin layers are best.

* Stock up your medicine cabinet to avoid running out.