December 6, 2012

Maury Regional offers tips on avoiding winter illness

COLUMBIA, TN – Winter is prime time for colds, flu and other respiratory illnesses. Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) has some tips for staying healthy this winter.

People are most vulnerable at this time of year because we often spend more time indoors with others as the weather gets colder. Children are especially susceptible as a result of their close proximity to others while at school or day care programs. Cold and flu bugs are easily spread to friends, siblings, parents and others once the virus has taken hold. While most of these bugs come and go in a few days with no lasting effects, some can lead to serious health problems.

“In addition to young children, adults who have chronic medical conditions such as lung disease and diabetes also are at increased risk,” said Dr. Maura Lipp, a pulmonary and critical care specialist on the MRMC medical staff. “Smoking also increases your risk for contracting respiratory infections. While it is always the right time to consider quitting, it may be more important to do so during the winter months. Those who are considering quitting should speak with their physician, as there is help available or take advantage of Maury Regional’s smoking cessation classes.”

Cold and flu symptoms can be similar but the two viruses are different. Colds are distinguished by sneezing and a stuffy or runny nose. Coughing, a scratchy throat and watery eyes are other symptoms of a cold. Flu symptoms will also include a fever (usually 102 degrees or higher), headache, chills, body aches and fatigue. Flu will come on more suddenly than a cold and will last longer. Young children may also experience nausea and vomiting with the flu. Acute bronchitis, commonly called a chest cold, often follows a cold or flu infection and may last for several weeks.

How to avoid those winter bugs:

Get vaccinated against the flu – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu vaccine, available as a shot or nasal spray, is the best way to prevent the flu. The best time to get your vaccination is from October through November, though getting it in December or January can still be effective. With few exceptions, everyone six months and older should be vaccinated. If you have severe allergies (especially to eggs), a high fever, are pregnant or have moderate or severe illness, you should first consult your health care professional before getting vaccinated.

Wash your hands and teach your children to do the same – Both colds and flu can be passed through coughing and sneezing. They are also passed by touching contaminated surfaces. The CDC recommends washing hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 15 seconds. Alcohol-based rubs can be used if soap and water are not handy; however, the CDC recommends against using these when hands are visibly dirty because organic material such as dirt or blood will inactivate alcohol, rendering it unable to kill bacteria.

Limit exposure to infected people – It is especially important to keep infants away from crowds for the first few months of life. Premature babies who may have underlying abnormalities are especially susceptible as is anyone with chronic medical conditions such as lung disease and diabetes.

Practice healthy habits – Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, exercise, try to keep your stress in check and, if you smoke, by all means quit.