As surely as December follows November virus season cannot be far behind. However, catching flu and colds is not inevitable. They can be avoided by applying basic science and rudimentary personal hygiene practices.

The common cold can be produced by any one of 200 viruses. Then there are the influenza viruses—a smaller grouping, but with much greater potency and potential to produce complications in infants, the very elderly and those with chronic chest conditions, heart disease, diabetes or compromised immune systems. Cold viruses always involve upper respiratory symptoms, especially congestion. Fevers are usually low grade and the achy systemic feelings are usually mild. Influenza fevers usually spike much higher and more quickly and most often are accompanied by more severe symptoms, such as intense headaches, and muscle and joint pain.

Your first line of defence is to get your free flu vaccine

Flu vaccines do not cause flu. The vaccine is a killed version of the most potent strains of the previous year’s outbreaks. Rarely does the vaccine produce immediate symptoms unless you have a hyperactive immune system. A few people get local injection site reactions either from the needle insertion technique or reactions to the solvent carrying the vaccine. This should never deter people from getting the vaccine since complications of influenza represent the single greatest cause of respiratory death in seniors in this country every winter. Nor can you dodge the annual outbreak by snow birding your way south. Hot climates reduce your immunity and the viruses either catch up to you in the airplane or as soon as you are exposed to a public [place back in Canada. One other high risk group is infants under one year of age who have incompletely developed immune systems and cannot be given the vaccine. For moms the best defence is to keep the infant out of high density public places. Vaccine is strongly recommended for children in day care and school. For the needle-averse there is a commercially available nasal spray.

Personal Hygiene practices are the key.

Viruses are spread by two methods—coughing and sneezing—and direct hand contact. Wash your hands, preferably with soap and water and frequently—at least a half dozen times daily. Hand sanitizers are an acceptable substitute but only if they contain a high concentration of benzakonium or alcohol above 60. Try to keep your hands away from your face. Use disposable tissues for cough and sneeze. Cloth hankies become virus incubators in a matter of .hours. An uncovered cough or sneeze can propel viruses five feet across a bus or in a car pool. I have no qualms about glaring down any offender in my private space.

If you are ill, stay home. Employers are learning that having an employee absent for a few days is better than a wholesale office infection. And one last caveat. I don’t know where the homily “feed a cold and starve a fever” began. It’s complete nonsense. Feed both. Your unwell body needs extra energy. Catch up on your sleep, add In a few vitamin supplements, especially C and D. Insulate yourself from your household. “Misery loves company” is another untruth.

Written by: Dr. David Carll

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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