Leave Colds, Flu Out of Your Holiday Giving

‘Tis the Season … for celebrating, for remembering, for giving, for worshiping, for being thankful, for family — and for sharing infectious diseases.

What? You don’t remember adding colds and flu to your holiday wish list?

Hopefully, respiratory viruses are on your what-to-avoid list. The key words are “avoid and prevent.”

The weather has cooled down and there’s a definite nip in the air. That means cold and flu season is upon us. Yuck! When you wake up sneezing, coughing, achy, feverish and can’t move a muscle, or your child has similar complaints, how do you know whether it’s a simple cold, influenza or other illness?

Colds are common viral infections that affect the nose, throat and airways. They are one of the most common complaints, leading to more health care visits and absences from school and work than any other illness. During a one-year period, it is estimated people in the U.S. will suffer 1 billion colds. Most children will develop six to eight colds per year, and this number increases for children who attend day care. Colds may occur less frequently after age 6. Adults tend to suffer colds two to four times per year.

More than 200 varieties of viruses can cause the symptoms of colds. Rhinoviruses are the most common viral cause.

Colds spread easily through the air and direct contact. Generally they are self-diagnosed and self-treatable; laboratory tests and X-rays rarely required. Usually, symptoms are short-term, resolving within days to two weeks.

Influenza (flu), is an entirely different illness. A cold is relatively harmless, usually resolving by itself after a short period of time. Sometimes, it may lead to a secondary infection, such as an ear infection. The flu also can be harmless and more of a nuisance, but for those at risk it may progress to a more complicated illness, such as pneumonia and even death. Flu sufferers tend to have high fever (greater than 101 degrees), headache, coughing that may persist, sore throat, often severe aches and pains and fatigue that can progress to exhaustion.

Vomiting and diarrhea are typically NOT associated with flu.

Usually, the time of the year will give you a sense of what you are dealing with. The standard flu season runs from fall to spring of the next year.

So prevention and avoidance are key to staying symptom-free this cold and flu season:

— Wash your hands. Soap ’em up, and rub your hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds. That is longer than you think. We regularly pick up viruses on our fingers and touch our face and eyes up to 3,000 times a day! That is two to five times per minute. Count for yourself!

— Get a flu shot.

_ Have a reliable and working thermometer, and know how to use and maintain it.

— Skip the antibiotics. Viruses cause colds and flu. Antibiotics only work on susceptible bacteria, and with recent overuse no longer work on important pathogenic organisms. So, antibiotics will not make you feel better or heal more quickly. Using antibiotics when they are not needed allows dangerous bacteria to develop resistance, which has become a major public health problem. Don’t ask for antibiotics. If you have questions, check out the American Board of Internal Medicine and Consumer Reports Choosing Wisely program.

— Stay home if you are sick. You or your children require rest and recovery. Drink extra fluids such as water, broth, non-caffeinated sports drinks. Hot drinks such as herbal tea tend to warm the airways, thin mucous and drain your sinuses, reducing stuffy noses. Ice pops are a child’s favorite alternative.

— Call your doctor for prolonged fever, painful swallowing, persistent coughing or difficulty breathing.

This holiday season, share cheer not respiratory viruses.

C. Clark Milton, D.O., is a fellow of the American College of Osteopathic Internists and the medical director of Corporate Health at Wheeling Hospital.