Colds and Flu Are Something to Sneeze At

As the days grow shorter, the thermostat finally starts to drop to palatable temperatures, and we wait in morning traffic backed up by stopped school buses, it’s easy to get wistful about how quickly summer flashed by. Autumn, we know, will soon be upon us, and already some of the early trees are beginning to turn. Unfortunately, cold and flu season will be upon us soon, too, so it’s best to prepare ourselves for the annual fall germ parade heading our way.

Between the change of seasons and kids returning to school where they can comfortably and conveniently share germs and swap bacterial and viral infections, it’s important to take some simple, proven steps to try and contain those ugly bugs and prevent, or at least limit, the spread of seasonal maladies such as colds, influenza, bronchitis and pneumonia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As we touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, we accumulate germs on our hands. In turn, we can infect ourselves with these germs by touching our eyes, nose, mouth, food, sporting equipment, hair products and other shared items.

Although it’s impossible to keep our hands germ-free, washing hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines and desks. So wash before and after using a restroom. Wash after visiting the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or use an ATM. When it isn’t easy to wash, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t use anyone else’s toothbrush, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates.

Everyone sneezes, but we can do a better job of keeping our cooties to ourselves. When we sneeze into our sleeve or in a tissue or hanky, we’re less likely to infect innocent passersby or fellow employees. Airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections, and incubation time — the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly icky in our system — allows us to spread those germs to many other people before we even realize we’re infectious.

Finally, when sick, stay home – spreading the joy at school and at work is just plain mean and thoughtless.

Fun Flu Facts

Influenza — the flu – is not pretty. It’s far worse than a cold, includes body aches and fever, hangs around longer than a typical virus, is contagious, and can sideline us for a week or two.

Aside from the short-term misery and lost work or school days, flu can have more serious implications. Most people who get the seasonal flu recover just fine. But flu also hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States alone each year. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually, depending on the variety of flu and length of the season. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year, and more than twice the number of people killed by AIDS. And it’s particularly dangerous to children, the elderly and adults with other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Beyond hand washing, the best prevention is to get a flu shot. Flu vaccines are very safe; they only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.

Note that antibiotics won’t help us fight the flu, which is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens our body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and inappropriate prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken our body and allow bacterial invaders to infect us. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so early fall is a good time to get a flu shot, while there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

There’s no guarantee you won’t get sick this winter, but you can improve your odds tremendously. Eat well, exercise, and dress for the weather. Avoid going places when you’re not feeling well, get your flu vaccination, and wash your hands regularly. Take charge of your health, and the flu and colds can bug someone else!

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!