Tips for fighting flu season

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2007

The season for sickness is upon us. Runny noses, coughs, sore throats, fevers, vomiting and chills are all sypmtoms on this winter's interinary - unless you know how to prevent them.

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According to Jan Beauchamp, infection control coordinator for Bartlett Regional Hospital, the best remedy for flus and colds is prevention.

Prevention

Prevent colds and flus by "washing your hands, washing your hands - all the time," Beauchamp said. "About 90 percent of the colds and flus we get, we actually give to ourselves by picking up the virus on our hands and then putting in our bodies either in our eyes, our nose or our mouth."

Beauchamp said prevention requires learning to keep our hands away from our faces.

"It's kind of a mindfullness thing," Beauchamp said. "Just practice keeping your hands off your face, and wash them a lot, especially if you've been out in public areas. Come home and wash your hands. Carry hand sanitizer in your pocket book, your car or your office, all those places."

Beauchamp said alcohol-based hand sanitizers are good for cleaning your hands more frequently and when you can't get to the sink.

Another method for prevention is to use zinc-based products.

"There's some zinc-based products that you can buy in the pharmacy or grocery store," Beauchamp said. "When you first feel the symptoms of a cold, the scratchy throat, burning sinuses, if you use this product it's suppose to reduce the severity and duration of your cold."

Beauchamp said zinc-based products have been scientifically tested and work to boost the immune system. There are zinc lozenges, throat spray and a gel used to rub inside the nose. Zinc products must be taken every few hours, according to Beauchamp.

"You have to have it on hand and start using it," Beauchamp said. "It's supposed to interfere with viral replication. You need to start it early in the process, because the virus is happily replicating in there before you even know it's in there. And then the symptoms kind of come later, and then it's often too late."

And as far as the old addage feed a cold, starve a fever goes, "the CDC says do what feels good," Beauchamp said. "We all need food and fluids no matter what our condition is. Lots of fluids, lots of rest and take medications that can help your symptoms."

Beauchamp said medications will aleviate or reduce symptoms, but they won't make them the cold or flu away any faster.

Influenza vs. cold

Influenza is an infectious disease caused by viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae (the influenza viruses).

Sometimes confused with the common cold, influenza is much more severe and caused by a different type of virus. And even though influenza can cause nausea and vomiting, it is different than gastroenteritis, which is sometimes called "stomach flu" or the "24-hour flu."

"Even colds and flus get mixed up a lot," Beauchamp said. "The flu will usually start with a really sudden onset. You can almost remember the moment that you catch it or feel the symptoms."

Common symptoms of influenza are fever, muscle aches, severe headache, coughing, weakness and general discomfort. In serious cases, influenza can cause pneumonia, which can be fatal, especially for the elderly and young children.

"Basically, the flu is more of a whole body thing," Beauchamp said. "It doesn't start with a runny nose and sore throat. It starts with fever, head ache and body aches."

According to Beauchamp, there is not a lot of influenza circulating right now - locally, statewide or nationally.

"We're at pretty low levels right now," Beauchamp said. "But we usually don't see a peak of influenza until after Christmas ... (usually) in January or February."

At any rate, "the message there is there's still plenty of time to get a flu shot," Beauchamp said. "And there's lots of vaccine available."

Flu shot

The flu shot is recommended for anyone older than 6 months.

Beauchamp said there are also anti-viral medications one can take to ward off the flu.

"If you know that someone in your household actually has influenza and you haven't had your flu shot yet, (It takes two weeks to get immunity after you get your flu shot) you can get an anti-viral medication," she said. "It can help prevent you from catching the flu. It's not a good substitute for the vaccine."

Beauchamp does not recommend waiting to get an anti-viral medication. She said that although it can reduce the duration of the flu, if you catch it early, there are often side effects.

Flu vaccinations are available at the Juneau Public Health Center, Safeway Pharmacy and the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.

• Kim Andree can be reached at kimberly.andree@juneauempire.com.



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