Winter, YAY! It's that time of year again! Time to gather around the tables filled with wonderful home cooked meals and delicious pies; time to see the extended family, smile, and talk about all the meaningful things that have happened throughout the year; time to build snowmen and draw snow angels in a fresh snowfall; time to spread all of our good cheer. Ding-by-the dong and so goes the song..........ugh.
Don't get me wrong, I love the winter. The snow that falls into my shoes and gets my stockings wet, LOVE it. Love the cold weather that freezes the hairs inside my nose, causing an immediate drippy nose when I return to the warmth of the office or house. It's especially fun when I don't have a tissue so the next best thing is using the back of my hand to control the drip. I love the snow angels I can make when I slip in the wet snow and try to get up while I am walking my big dog. The best angels are made when he pulls me along down the trail because he is too inpatient to wait for me to stand again. I especially love pumping gas in the winter. However, I am a little worried about shocking myself as I grab the pump handle so I can hang it back up. Why? Because my hair is frizzy enough plus I really don't need a static charge by a gas pump to warm me up.
But really, what I love about the holidays in the winter is all of the upper respiratory infections we catch from our loved ones as we hug and kiss on each other. Oh, and don't forget passing the mashed potatoes to little Billy, who just the day before was in the bathroom vomiting and pooping at the same time. Yep, you better believe within the next seven days, someone else will be vomiting and pooping at the same time in their own bathroom. What's really awful is when there are 5 people who are ill and only one bathroom. Perry Como once sang, "Do you hear what I hear?" No Perry, I think I hear dry heaves and I am stocking up on Lysol.
"Melissa, you are a health care provider! You see this stuff all of the time. It shouldn't bother
you!" Well, it doesn't when it is someone else. I love to care for people and help them feel better, but I will be honest here, I really dislike when preventable illnesses are spread like wildfire back and forth through our family. I pride myself on the fact that we rarely get ill because I have ingrained in my children's heads, "WASH YOUR HANDS! WASH YOUR HANDS! WASH YOUR HANDS!" and "DON"T TOUCH YOUR FACE! DON"T PICK YOUR NOSE (at least not in public)!" "PUT THE TOILET LID DOWN WHEN FLUSHING!" Yes, I am somewhat of a germ freak but it has saved us from illnesses, other than mild colds, for quite sometime. Okay, enough of my Grinchy cheer. I am here to tell you all about some common winter illnesses and ways to avoid the funk this winter season. I will only discuss a few common ones in this blog, so here we go.
Viruses and bacteria are out there all year long but in the winter, it seems these illnesses run through many households once, twice, and sometimes....more. This is because we spend most of our winter season indoors avoiding frost bite. As the winter brings all of us indoors, bacteria and viruses have the perfect setting to spread from one person to the next without hesitation. Some very common illnesses are colds, influenza, norovirus and rotavirus (stomach "flu"), and pneumonia. Again, these can happen all year round, but they are most commonly seen during the winter season.
Let's start with the common cold. We have all had a cold, multiple times. This is a simple upper respiratory infection cause by a virus. Typical symptoms include sore throat,
stuffy nose, mild sinus pressure, sneezing, cough, possibly a headache, mild body aches, and perhaps a low grade temp (rarely greater than 101.0 Fahrenheit). The symptoms usually start off mild, then days 3-4 they worsen. Between days 5-7 folks generally begin to feel better, though a cough may linger for a little longer. Many can still function in daily activities with a common cold and will turn to hot teas, soup, and Tylenol for relief. There is no cure for a common cold. It is a self limiting virus that just has to run its course. An antibiotic is not used to treat a cold because it is caused by a virus not a bacteria. Many flock to their primary care provider in hopes of relief with an antibiotic. If treated with antibiotic for a common cold, they may notice some symptoms begin to subside (this is ONLY a coincidence because they would have settled anyway since they just have a cold) and they are being treated incorrectly with an antibiotic. This may potentially cause antibiotic resistance. If you have had unrelenting cold symptoms for more than a week, then I suggest seeking medical treatment but if not, try to let it run it's course.
Next...the dreaded influenza. Most of us in the healthcare field get vaccinated every year for the flu. It is also a great idea for everyone else to get vaccinated each year for influenza. I know, I know, there are many anti-vax folks out there and they do just fine without the vaccine
but here is the low down on the hoe down: Yes, it is true, the influenza vaccine may not fully protect any one of us from getting the flu...BUT....it does reduce the risk in those with chronic illnesses such as Diabetes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), HIV, Asthma, Heart Failure, and others who may be immuno-compromised. Those who receive the influenza vaccine are covered against some more common strains of the virus but not all. A little coverage can go a long way. Why risk it? The vaccine itself is relatively harmless and it could potentially save the life of someone who does not have the immune system of Superman. Okay, I was paid millions of dollars by big Pharma to say that..NOT! I am not paid by anyone to say that, I just base my information on the facts of science. (the Grinch in me is starting to wake up). Okay, moving on. So, common influenza symptoms include: frontal headaches, severe malaise, fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat (lasting 3-5 days), joint aches and pains, some may have diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting along with upper respiratory symptoms. Most will feel down and out. This is not a common cold. If you feel this way, get in to see your primary care provider right away to be tested for the flu. Flu symptoms tend to last longer than cold symptoms and you may feel you have been hit with a Mack truck. Most who have strong immune systems can fight off the flu without help, but for those who do not, there are anti-virals available if treatment is started on time.
Okay, what about the dreaded stomach bugs, the NOROVIRUS and ROTAVIRUS (Quick side note: When your daughter tells you her stomach hurts before catching the bus to elementary school, take her seriously because you will inevitably get a phone call from the school nurse telling you she vomited on the bus ride to school and she needs picked up.) Educating on the norovirus always makes me feel queasy. Call it what you will: Stomach bug, stomach flu, 24 hour bug, gastroenteritis....it all leads to the same thing. Symptoms include nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, low grade temp, malaise and vomiting. The norovirus is a common highly contagious cause for short lived, albeit nasty little episodes of vomiting and diarrhea in children and adults. It is self-limiting, lasting only up to 3 days. There is no antibiotic to treat the norovirus and the virus can be found in the stool for up to 2 weeks after symptoms have cleared up. If you or a family member have multiple episodes of this in your household, that is probably why. It is spread through contaminated foods or through people who have contracted the virus. Work on staying hydrated, do not take anything to stop the diarrhea, and increase diet slowly as tolerated.
The rotavirus is another beastly virus that causes severe diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever, and weakness. It is the most common cause of diarrhea in school aged children but adults can get it too (though not as common). This bug has been the cause of many ER visits and hospital admissions because of severe dehydration. It is most notable for its foul smell. Once you have had a child with it, you will never forget it. The virus is self-limiting but due to the severity of the infectious process, it is imperative to maintain hydration throughout the illness. There are now a couple different vaccines available for prevention of the rotavirus. Depending on the brand, the vaccine is given orally in either 3 doses at 2, 4, and 6 months of age (Rota Teq (R5)) OR given orally in 2 doses at 2 and 4 months of age (Rotarix (RV1)).
Pneumonia is a very common cause of hospitalizations in the immunocompromised population and those age 65 and older but anyone can get it. Pneumonia can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or a fungi. It can occur in one lung or both lungs. Common symptoms include a productive cough with green or yellow phlegm, shortness of breath, fever, chills, loss of appetite, sharp pain in the chest while trying to breath or coughing, sweating, headaches, and confusion. For any healthy individual, it can take up to 3 weeks to recover from pneumonia but for the elderly, frail, or immunocompromised population, hospitalization may be required. Pneumonia can be life threatening. The incidents of pneumonia have been reduced since vaccines for pneumonia have been introduced, but they are not full proof either. Oh, by the way....the flu can lead into pneumonia! I will leave a link to the adult vaccine guide provided by the CDC if you would like to check it out and perhaps print a copy to take to the next visit you have with your health care provider.
Now that we have reviewed some common close contact funk we love to give and dislike to receive during the holiday family gatherings, how can we graciously turn these nasty bugs down and still have fun?
1. Wash your hands. Simple, right? Should be. I am not talking just a quick splash under the faucet running with cool water. I am speaking of a serious hand washing with warm water, singing the alphabet, and using SOAP! The kind of hand wash you want to do when you think about all those boogered up fingers and hands that have touched every door knob in the house. The kind of hand wash you want to do when you think about Billy coughing into his hand then touching all of the forks just to pull out one of his choice. I am talking wash those hands as though your immune system's life depended on it, because it does.
2. Remind folks to cover their coughs and sneezes with their arms, not their hands. This
one is also pretty simple. Download that slow motion video of the man sneezing into his hand, it's disgusting. Or, just show them this picture. Yeah......that's what a sneeze looks like blowing into a hand. There is NO amount of rubbing that off on the jeans that will make those germs die. Shake that hand, I dare you. After you
show all the kids and the adults, have them all practice
once or twice. Those who don't get it right away, have
to shake little Billy's hand.
3. Get your FLU vaccine. That is all I am saying about that.
4. Eat healthy, take some vitamin C, vitamin D. Stay hydrated with water, avoid those sugary drinks such as pop, juices, and kool-aid. Too much sugar, whether in food or drink, is bad for your immune system. It can place you in a pretty sticky situation when trying to avoid or recover from an illness.
5. DO NOT EAT OR DRINK AFTER SOMEONE ELSE. This is pretty self-explanatory.
6. Get plenty of sleep and try to have some de-stressing techniques on board. Too much stress and anxiety lowers the immune system defense. When we battle stress, it is more difficult for us to fight off even a simple cold. Stressed from shopping? Gift cards are easy and quick! I personally prefer to pick old items I no longer want; I wrap
them and pass them out. Helps me remove clutter and at least I can say everyone got
a gift. Ba humbug. It's the thought that counts. ;0) Okay, okay, I am not that bad.
7. If you are sick or have a sick child....STAY HOME! I am sure everyone will understand
if Billy isn't at Grandma's dinner table this holiday season.
The main point here is that these illnesses are indeed preventable! Seriously....they are. So, do me a huge favor, please read number 1 prevention over and over again. Then go out and have a great winter holiday season spreading good cheer and tidings to all, not your germs!