How to prepare for cold and flu season
By Katie Coakley, brought to you by Kaiser Permanente.
Fall is a beautiful time of year in the High Country, with leaves changing and the first dustings of snow decorating the mountains. However, the arrival of colder weather also brings a less pleasant season: cold and flu season.
Cold weather itself does not cause the cold or flu (despite what your mother might have warned you) — it’s that people are spending more time indoors in close contact with each other, possibly infected people. As a result, the cold and flu viruses are more easily transmitted.
However, there are ways to avoid the spread of these unwanted winter visitors.
The first priority in the fall is to get a flu shot.
“Make sure you’re vaccinated,” said Dr. Jeannine Benson, an internal medicine physician at the Kaiser Permanente medical offices in Edwards. “Even if you’ve already had the flu once, get the shot after you recover.”
A wide range of viruses can cause the common cold, which means that a vaccine for the cold is almost impossible. However, the flu is caused by a certain group of viruses; this more narrow range means that a vaccine is not only possible, but is also 60 percent effective. If you happen to be one of the unlucky few that do catch the flu after being vaccinated, you’re still likely to have a milder version.
After vaccination, there are other tactics you can employ to avoid colds and the flu.
“The number one thing is hand washing — hand hygiene,” explained Benson.
If someone in your house or vicinity is sick, and they touch a surface like a door handle, the virus can be transmitted to you when you touch that same door handle, and then touch your mouth, nose or eye, Benson said. Viruses, especially cold viruses, can be very contagious.
The easiest way to prevent this spread of contagion is frequently washing your hands with soap and water while rubbing vigorously for at least 20 seconds.
“The hygiene piece is the biggest part,” Benson said.
Along with hand washing, keeping your surroundings clean and disinfected can also help you avoid the cold. Door handles, countertops, faucet handles, telephones and other surfaces that you come in contact with frequently can be homes for the virus. Wipe down these areas often with a disinfectant to help minimize the spread of the virus.
Of course, even the best-laid plans can go awry. If you do contract a cold or the flu, Benson encourages you to be kind to others and stay home.
“Especially with the flu, we really do recommend that people stay home from work when they have the symptoms,” Benson said. “Otherwise, your whole office will have it.”
If necessary, she’ll provide a letter to your boss, explaining the situation.
Unfortunately, if you do contract a cold or the flu, Benson said that there’s really not much that a doctor can do for it. Take ibuprofen or Tylenol for fevers or muscle aches; stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. Most colds or the flu can last between five and 10 days. If a cold or flu lasts two weeks and you’re not seeing any relief, see a doctor.
“I think the basics are get vaccinated for the flu and practice good hand hygiene,” Benson said. “If you do catch a cold or the flu, there’s little to be done so stay home, stay hydrated and get some rest.”
For more information on the flu shot and how you can protect yourself this season, visit kp.org/flu or call the recorded flu hotline at 1-866-868-7091.