Saddle River Magazine
Look out for colds and flu this winter season. Both can be nasty and run the gamut from mild to severe. While there is no known cure or orthodox method to prevent the common cold, there is the flu vaccine and every reason to be immunized.
Colds are not fun and more common than the flu. CDC data indicate that adults have 2-3 colds per year while children get 8-12 colds per year. Most colds are caused by viruses, so antibiotics are useless and place you at real risk of messing up your natural protective mechanisms. So, don’t go to your doctor and ask him for any variety of popular antibiotics because they might cause more harm than good. Colds are caused most commonly by rhinoviruses (nose viruses), but many other viruses can cause the symptoms of a cold: adenoviruses, coronaviruses, enteroviruses, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus and more.
Smokers can have colds that don’t quit, because smoking damages the throat and the little protective hairs in the trachea or tube that goes to the lungs. The throat then gets irritated and the smoking also damages the natural nose filters. And you should know that second hand smoke is just as bad.
In order to prevent colds you can wash your hands after touching people at a cocktail party where one or two are sneezing and coughing. Soap and water is best, although Purell will do if you have no sink, soap or water. If you wish to make a statement when you suspect someone near you has a cold, pull the little tube of hand sanitizer out of your pocket or purse and scrub away making the infector acutely aware of his need to stay home. He will undoubtedly avoid you for the rest of the party. You should also avoid cups or plates, phones, keyboards, toys, doorknobs and faucets which had been in contact with the infected individual. And by all means, avoid kissing infected people entirely. You know the cocktail parties where certain people “lip kiss”. Well, this is a sure way to get their cold, among other things, and pass it on to everyone else. Even air kissing is not recommended for the congested sneezer.
You are contagious 24 hours before the cold appears and five days after you believe you are better, so beware of those who say “I just got over a bad cold”. Even though there is nothing you can usually do prior to getting infected, once you feel that a cold is coming on, you can buy tissues in bulk or try things like Echinacea or vitamin C. Although, I have patients who swear by alternative remedies there is little scientific data to support their use. Then there is always chicken soup and other of grandma’s remedies which I detail below.
More worrisome is the Flu, that scourge of winter and early spring? There is the annual push to vaccinate everyone, but the good news evaporated with the news that this year’s vaccine might only be 10% protective. I still recommend the vaccine.
Flu shots are now mandated in many a work place, but particularly in hospitals and i hope doctor’s offices. The reasons for this is the traffic of sick people who traipse through the emergency room and who through close quarters on the hospital wards tend to transmit their infections to others. This also applies to doctor’s office waiting rooms where the loud coughing teen sits sneezing, while waiting for the doctor. I for one suggest that patients with the flu stay home in bed and call your doctor with your symptoms or have him make a house call (if you can find such a physician). Health workers who refuse to get the vaccine must wear a surgical mask and marked as susceptible to infection. Many employees resent the mandatory vaccine, but it is good for everyone working in close quarters in places where everyone with a respiratory condition is suspected as having the flu.
A few years back when I was immunizing people in EMS and the fire department, we had a dead virus vaccine shortage and we injected live virus up the nostrils of emergency workers. This is dangerous for pregnant females or those who were immunosuppressed because it could cause fulminant infection in susceptible hosts. Fortunately, it is not common to use such vaccines today.
All hospital workers, police officers, EMS workers, baristas, waiters and waitresses and anyone else who is in daily contact with the public, should get a flu vaccine.
There are those who adamantly refuse the flu vaccine for fear that they will “get the flu” after the shot. While it is true that some people experience a day or so of aches and pains after the shot, it is not common and certainly much better than getting the full -blown flu.
OK, so why do we put the emphasis on getting vaccinated? If you don’t get the vaccine, and have a dysfunctional immune system, you might get a bad infection with the influenza virus and wind up in the hospital or worse. People die of the flu and some people get so ill, they lie in bed with high fevers, aches and pains in every muscle and lung congestion for weeks. Flu infections in the very old or the very young can irritate the lower respiratory system or the lower lung and cause enough irritation to allow a superinfection with something like a Staphylococcus or some other bacterium, that can cause death or at the least, respiratory failure. All physicians have seen people who come to the emergency department and go directly to the intensive care unit because of failure to breathe. And every year one or two people from our neighborhood in the prime of life die of the flu.
Aside from the dangerous of overt infection, men bemoan a flu that can be worse than that seen in women. Recent data from the Communicable Disease Centers (CDC) indicate that respiratory illnesses affect men more than women. Is it because we have a weaker immune system, or the effects of testosterone that suppresses the immune system? We simply don’t know, but the data are interesting and more men with the flu are likely to wind up in the hospital because of it and have an even greater reason for getting the shots.
Recall stories of the pandemic of 1918 or closer to many baby boomers, the swine flu epidemic of the 60s when millions of people got the flu and suffered because of it. Its no fun to have the flu.
How can I tell if I have the flu? Well, the flu is much more than a cold. Its muscle and joint pains, weakness so bad that you hurt to move, a high fever, and a cough productive in some cases of tenacious yellow or green phlegm. Most people get nausea and vomiting along with diarrhea as well. Its not a pretty picture. Non-vaccinated people who get the flu once, always get vaccinated going forward.
Go get your vaccination now.