The season has changed and so begins the prime time for colds, influenza and other respiratory illnesses. Contagious viruses are actually active year-round, but it’s fall and winter when we are most vulnerable to them, due in large part because we are spending more time indoors and spreading germs.

The Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

Prevent Illness 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 usually create a stuffy or runny nose and sneezing, coughing, scratchy throat and water eyes. Colds come on gradually and often spread through contact with mucus. The flu comes on suddenly and lasts longer than colds and also includes fever, headache, chills, body aches and fatigue. Young children may also experience nausea and vomiting.

Family Medicine offers same day sick visits and is now accepting patients aged 13 years and older.

Prevent Illness – Keeping Colds and Contagious Infections Contained.

We all want to avoid getting sick, but most of the time it’s usually too late to guard against illness. We can be exposed to the illness before the person who has it shows any symptoms! The flu can be contagious about a day prior to the onset of symptoms and strep throat can be contagious as much as 5 days prior to onset. It is important to start practicing preventative measures now.

#1 Immunizations

Immunizations have reduced or eliminated diseases such as smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio. But despite the success of vaccines, contagious diseases still often outwit the best efforts to control them. For instance, there is concern now about a resurgence of whooping cough, which is most contagious before the coughing actually starts. The best way to prevent whooping cough is still through vaccinations. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and there’s also a whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults ages 19 through 64 called Tdap. The booster not only protects against whooping cough, but also against tetanus and diphtheria.

No matter what your age, talk to your doctor to see if you are current with all of your immunizations. You should also make sure you get a flu shot annually to protect yourself from influenza, and if you are in the group of people who need one, you should get the pneumococcal vaccine, as well. It can help protect you against pneumonia.

Remember, though, while a flu shot is one of the best ways to avoid the flu, the vaccines aren’t always 100% effective. And flu, if you catch it, can lead to serious respiratory complications such as pneumonia or bacterial bronchitis. So, in addition to making sure you have all your immunizations and shots, you should also know about and use the following “stay-well” strategies to prevent illness and keep catchy infections contained.

#2 A Healthy Body

The best defense is a good offense. Keeping yourself well-rested, continuing with good exercise routines, eating right and reducing stress all go a long way in helping your body combat the cold and flu season.

#3 Hand Washing – A Survival Skill

According to the CDC, frequent and thorough hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent catching colds, flu, or any contagious disease. Be sure to wash your hands frequently. To wash your hands properly, follow these steps:

  1. Wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place bar soap on a soap dish that allows it to drain.
  2. Rub your hands together vigorously, scrubbing all surfaces for 15 to 20 seconds. That’s about how long it takes to hum the song “Happy Birthday to You” twice.
  3. Rinse well and dry your hands. In a public restroom, use the air dryer or paper towels.
  4. In the absence of soap and water, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.

#4 Containing Contagions

  • Think before touching, sharing, sneezing. Do not touch your mouth nose or eyes without washing your hands. Don’t share food and other things that go in your mouth. Don’t share personal items like towels and pillows. Cover your mouth with a tissue before coughing and sneezing, if no tissue is available, sneeze into the inside of your elbow instead of your hands.
  • Disinfect germ hotspots. Viruses can lurk on surfaces for a few hours and bacteria can remain on surfaces for up to 3 days. The CDC recommends inexpensive chlorine bleach, adding 1/4 cup bleach to 1 gallon of warm water. Allow the mixture to stay on the surface for 10 minutes before rinsing. Disinfect items such as door handles, remote controls, phones, faucets, light switches, toilet seats and appliance/plumbing handles. Remember to wear rubber gloves and a mask, ventilate the area, and wash your hands after removing the gloves.
  • Make Every Day a Wash Day. Containing illness is hard work. When you or a loved one is ill, it’s advisable to wash towels, washcloths, pillows, and bedding daily. You may want to wash the stuffed animals that kids cuddle to remove germs.
  • Stock Up Before the Season. Purchase a separate thermometer for each family member. Buy extra toothbrushes,  tissues, toilet paper and throat lozenges. Have plenty of paper towels on hand and use them instead of cloth towels for drying and cleaning.

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Information provided on this website and in the Doctor’s Blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical advice. Please consult your health care professional for evaluation of your individual case.