Preparing for cold and flu season

Submitted on: Monday, January 16, 2012


by Amye Wright, Herald Citizen

COOKEVILLE -- How many times have you heard that going outside under-dressed in these frigid temperatures will cause you to get sick?

That can be true, if your immune system is already depleted but the cold is caused by germs; a virus.

"People have the idea that going out in the cold gives you a cold," Dr. Mark Pierce, Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, said. "Viruses and bacteria cause illness ... to get the cold you have to come into contact with the cold virus."

Contact includes sneezing or coughing into the open air or touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

More than 200 different types of viruses cause a cold and the most common, Dr. Pierce says, is the rhinovirus.

"That's why there's really not a vaccine for the cold because you just can't cover everything," he said.

A person normally gets sick one to three days after coming into contact with the cold-causing virus and will experience a scratchy throat, coughing, congestion and runny nose.

"It doesn't matter what you do," Dr. Pierce said. "In a week or so (you will) get better."

Common over-the-counter medicines and remedies can help alleviate symptoms until the virus runs its course.

Dr. Pierce discourages people from taking antibiotics for the common cold.

"Antibiotics work against bacteria, not against viruses," he said.

Some people can even mistake the common cold for the flu -- if the symptoms are severe enough.

However, the flu differs in that a person will likely experience more aches, sore throat, coughing, and high fever.

"You just feel really bad all over," Dr. Pierce said. "All of your large muscle groups can ache."

Influenza can be fatal, he adds, but typically in patients who already have a preexisting health condition like diabetes or heart disease. It can also lead to pneumonia.

"We usually see it peak here in January," Stephanie Etter, Cookeville Regional Medical Center Infection Prevention manager, said.

So, what's the best way to protect yourself -- and others -- from getting sick in the first place?

Etter and Dr. Pierce agree that the best method is good old fashioned soap and water.

"Hand washing is really important," Dr. Pierce added. "Disinfecting surfaces, probably does help, but it's never been as good as hand washing."

When using hand sanitizers, Etter recommends that the solution should be lathered vigorously onto hands for at least 15 seconds or until completely dry.

Other general prevention tips include:

* Covering coughs and sneezes

* Avoiding the touching face -- eyes, nose and mouth

* Disinfecting high-contact surfaces

* Getting vaccinated against the flu

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone six months and older should get the flu shot. Very young people, the elderly and those with a chronic illness are at the highest risk for experiencing complications from the illness and should make it a point to get vaccinated, says Dr. Pierce.

"It's always a good idea to get the flu shot," he added. "Especially for those populations who are at an increased risk."

The flu vaccine is typically 50-to-80 percent effective in confirmed cases of the flu.


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