Cold, flu season in high gear

February 5, 2008 2:55:27 PM PST
It is the season for colds and flu, and while we haven't seen a bad flu season yet, colds and other upper respiratory infections have become a menace.

You know the signs:

"For about 6 weeks, I couldn't get rid of the cough."

"It was non-stop coughing. I could hardly breathe."

"I'm sniffing now."

If this sounds familiar in your household, Dr. David Berkson says viruses, causing upper respiratory infections, have been running rampant, & lingering.

He says, "The cough, that scratcghy throat, can stick around for 2 or 3 weeks after they;re done with the other symptoms, and just really be annoying."

One sufferer says, "It woke me up all hours of the night."

David Oly of Overbrook, says, "I thought I had pneumonia, really, because my chest was so clogged up."

Dr. Berkson says, "Somewhere between day 3 and 5 is the worst time."

He warns that viruses can be spread anywhere, by coughing or sneezing...

They are spread faster in close quarters by touching, shaking hands, & using the same phone.

It can be a mini-epidemic in the workplace.

"These infections are very easily spread, and often times when you only have a few symptoms, you are in the process of spreading it to your colleagues."

What's the best way to attack it, or even control it?

Dr. Berkson says, "try to prevent it, with good hygiene, including hand-washing."

Or you can be creative, like Mary Dougherty, of Roxborough. "I try to wear a sweatshirt all the time. I pull the sleeves down, and I open doors with my elbow instead of my hand, if I can."

Dr. Berkson says, "If your symptoms are mainly congestion and cough, there are some over-the-counter medications that can make you more comfortably temporarily, but they won't get rid of these infections.

In the long-run his best advice for treating a virus may sound familiar: get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids....and.. "give it the time to run its course."

And a reminder that antibiotics have NO effect on viruses.

They should be used only for bacterial infections; so their effectiveness isn't reduced by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

To keep the flu from ruining your winter, the Centers for Disease Control says to "take 3."

Take time to get vaccinated against the flu; take everyday precautions, such as washing your hands, or covering your sneezes and coughs; and take anti-viral medications if doctors say you need them.

When it comes to colds, here are some basic tips:

#1 Wash Your Hands

Most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. Someone who has the flu sneezes onto their hand, and then touches the telephone, the keyboard, a kitchen glass. The germs can live for hours -- in some cases weeks -- only to be picked up by the next person who touches the same object. So wash your hands often. If no sink is available, rub your hands together very hard for a minute or so. That also helps break up most of the cold germs. Or rub an alcohol-based hand sanitizer onto your hands.

#2 Don't Cover Your Sneezes and Coughs With Your Hands

Because germs and viruses cling to your bare hands, muffling coughs and sneezes with your hands results in passing along your germs to others. When you feel a sneeze or cough coming, use a tissue, then throw it away immediately. If you don't have a tissue, turn your head away from people near you and cough into the air.

#3 Don't Touch Your Face

Cold and flu viruses enter your body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Touching their faces is the major way children catch colds, and a key way they pass colds on to their parents.

#4 Drink Plenty of Fluids

Water flushes your system, washing out the poisons as it rehydrates you. A typical, healthy adult needs eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids each day. How can you tell if you're getting enough liquid? If the color of your urine runs close to clear, you're getting enough. If it's deep yellow, you need more fluids.

#5 Take a Sauna

Researchers aren't clear about the exact role saunas play in prevention, but one 1989 German study found that people who steamed twice a week got half as many colds as those who didn't. One theory: When you take a sauna you inhale air hotter than 80 degrees, a temperature too hot for cold and flu viruses to survive.

#6 Get Fresh Air

A regular dose of fresh air is important, especially in cold weather when central heating dries you out and makes your body more vulnerable to cold and flu viruses. Also, during cold weather more people stay indoors, which means more germs are circulating in crowded, dry rooms.