Take Precautions During Cold and Flu Season

Published: October 01, 2015

Viral upper respiratory infections may come in every degree of severity and may cause symptoms in the ears, sinuses, throat and nose. Two of the most common viruses that cause viral upper respiratory infections are the common cold and influenza (the flu). This broad category of viral infections is responsible for many school, work, and social abesenteeisms.

Influenza travels the world in yearly epidemics. Major epidemics occur approximately every 10-15 years and may kill as many as 40,000 people or more in the United States alone.

The common cold is characterized by nasal congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, perhaps a headache, and generally not feeling well. there are at least 200 known rhinoviruses responsible for the symptoms of the common cold which may also lead to lower respiratory infections as wel.

Influenza is a very specific illness caused by the influenza viruses. It has a seasonal cycle that peaks in the winter. Typical symptoms include but are not limited to a high fever (102-104 degrees F), headache, muscle aches, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, and generally not feeling well. Influenza viruses are divided into 3 groups: A, B, and C. Influenza A is the cause for the worst epidemics.

Some risk factors for acquiring upper respiratory infections include:

  • Smoking
  • Poor hygiene
  • Crowded populations
  • Certain medical conditions (cardiac, respiratory or kidney disease)
  • Suppressed immune systems
  • Pregnancy
  • Age (children and elderly)
  • Disability (those who may have difficulty practicing preventive measures)
  • Stress (may lower your immune system)

Steps to reduce your risk of catching a cold or the flu include:

  • Frequent hand washing
  • Wearing a mask when in close contact with a sick person
  • Not sharing drinks, food or personal items
  • Keeping your hands away from your face
  • Avoiding crowds during flu season
  • Getting a flu vaccine. Vaccines are developed for the influenza virus that is predicted to be the most dangerous strain in the upcoming flu season. Flu vaccines are recommended for most people age 6 months and older and come in either an injectable or nasal spray.
  • Taking medication. Most people do not need to take antiviral medications, but you may want to discuss this with your doctor. Alternative treatments such as Zinc and Vitamin C may have some potential benefits. Remember to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. They can interact with other medications you are taking or worsen a condition you may already have.

Screening can be helpful with early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are usually administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at a high risk for certain diseases or conditions. There are no tests for colds. Diagnosis and treatment begin with the onset of symptoms. A nasal swab may be done to determine if you have been infected with the influenza virus.

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