Winter Illness Season

November 1, 2010

OK, it’s now time for colds, influenza (flu), and other respiratory illnesses. Moreover we become more vulnerable to contagious viruses. What can we do to take care of our body and help it fight winter illnesses?

Colds and Flu

Most respiratory bugs come and go within a few days, with no lasting effects. However, some cause serious health problems. Although symptoms of colds and flu can be similar, the two are different.

Colds are usually distinguished by a stuffy or runny nose and sneezing. Other symptoms include coughing, a scratchy throat, and watery eyes. No vaccine against colds exists because they can be caused by many types of viruses. Often spread through contact with mucus, colds come on gradually.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms include fever, headache, chills, dry cough, body aches, fatigue, and general misery. Like colds, flu can cause a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. Young children may also experience nausea and vomiting with flu.

Flu vaccine

Flu vaccine, available as a shot or a nasal spray, remains the best way to prevent and control influenza. The best time to get a flu vaccination is from October through November, although getting it in December and January is not too late. A new flu shot is needed every year because the predominant flu viruses may change every year.

All people 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated. However, you should talk to your health care professional before getting vaccinated!

Prevent and Treat Flu

Wash your hands often. Teach children to do the same. Both colds and flu can be passed through coughing, sneezing, and contaminated surfaces, including the hands.

CDC recommends regular washing of your hands with warm, soapy water for about 15 seconds.

FDA says that while soap and water are undoubtedly the first choice for hand hygiene, alcohol-based hand rubs may be used if soap and water are not available. However, the agency cautions against using the alcohol-based rubs when hands are visibly dirty. This is because organic material such as dirt or blood can inactivate the alcohol, rendering it unable to kill bacteria.

See a health care professional if you aren’t getting any better or if your symptoms worsen. Mucus buildup from a viral infection can lead to a bacterial infection.

With children, be alert for high fevers and for abnormal behavior such as unusual drowsiness, refusal to eat, crying a lot, holding the ears or stomach, and wheezing.

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