Fight cold and flu: Take steps now to prevent wintertime illness | TheUnion.com

Fight cold and flu: Take steps now to prevent wintertime illness

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union
Hygiene. Cleaning Hands. Washing hands.
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If you do get sick …

Despite your best efforts, you may still catch an illness this winter. It’s important to recognize the difference between a common cold virus and influenza (flu). Flu can cause mild to severe symptoms.

In some instances flu can be very serious, even fatal. Flu usually comes on suddenly and can include fever, cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, and fatigue. While all of those symptoms are normal, there are warning signs that your illness may be more severe. The CDC recommends immediate medical care if the following symptoms are present:

— Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

— Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

— Persistent dizziness, confusion, inability to arouse

— Seizures

— Not urinating

— Severe muscle pain

— Severe weakness or unsteadiness

— Fever or cough that improve but then return or worsen

— Worsening of chronic medical conditions

If you are sick and are high-risk for complications (including young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions), or experiencing severe symptoms, contact your health care provider regarding appropriate treatment options.

Sniffling, sneezing, sore throats… Most adults will get two to four colds every year. For children (whose immune systems are still developing), that number can be as high as 10 a year. Influenza (also known as the “flu”) can affect anywhere from five percent (in a good year) to 20 percent (in an outbreak year) of the population.

While flu activity in California was still minimal as of the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control ten days ago, parts of the southern U.S. are experiencing high numbers of cases. Nevada is already listed as “moderate” for flu activity and California’s numbers are expected to rise in coming weeks.

Now is the time to take steps to help protect yourself and loved ones from colds and flu. A little prevention really does go a long way.

According to the CDC, the single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year. If you or someone you love hasn’t been vaccinated yet this year, it is still worth it. The vaccine takes roughly two weeks to be effective, which means you could still be protected prior to the holidays.

Good hygiene habits also make a big difference. First and foremost, wash your hands – often. Researchers in London estimated in a 2003 study that if everyone regularly and thoroughly washed their hands, more than a million lives could be saved every year!

Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.

For the most effective handwashing, use hot water and soap and lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Rinse and dry thoroughly, too. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

If you are coughing or sneezing for any reason, be sure to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Teach children to do the same.

It’s also important to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, according to the CDC. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth, thereby introducing it to their body.

Throughout the winter, be sure to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work and school. This includes light switches, door handles, remote controls and phones.

If someone in your household does get sick, try to quarantine them as much as possible to prevent the spread of the illness.

Infected individuals should stay home and avoid public places (other than the doctor’s office). This is especially important during the holidays. Large gatherings like parties, concerts and church services can quickly become incubators for illness. Don’t be the person who is supplying the germs.

Finally, practice good health habits like getting plenty of sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly. All of these habits can help to keep your immune system healthy, making it easier for your body to battle any illness that do come your way.


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