Here Comes Cold And Flu Season

Although influenza (flu) viruses can be caught year round, in the U.S. the most common time for sickness is during the fall and winter with peaks from December to February for the most part. This is due to the fact that flu virus is more stable in cold air and low humidity.

First let’s talk about the difference between a cold and “the flu.” Although both are caused by viruses a cold generally affects the neck up with congestion. You may experience a runny nose, sore throat, clogged sinuses and a cough. The flu makes you feel miserable all over. You know the “I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus” feeling fever, body aches, dry cough, you name it. The “flu,” or influenza is not intestinal in nature; it is upper respiratory, although you may experience nausea and vomiting along with the respiratory symptoms. There are more than 200 different viruses which cause colds, which is why our immune systems often can’t keep up and develop immunity. Most colds cause only temporary discomfort and run their course fairly quickly; the influenza virus however, can result in a much more severe illness especially for the older person. There is no treatment for the cold other than to help alleviate the symptoms but there are vaccines in place each year for the flu. Remember that antibiotics are used for bacterial infections NOT for the virus causing cold and flu. It is a guessing game because if you are hit with the flu (influenza) it is beneficial to get an antiviral but it needs to be given in the first 48 hours of your illness. Call your doctor if you are hit hard and fast with a high fever, chills, cough and significant body aches for their opinion. Remember influenza is highly contagious so please stay home and do not spread the illness. It is for this reason that many doctor’s offices do not have patients wait in the main waiting room if they are experiencing symptoms of the flu.

How do we not get sick? We often infect ourselves by touching contaminated surfaces. I read somewhere that you might as well lick a door knob as touch your face with your fingers, which we generally do at least three times an hour. We ride elevators or use the stairs and hold handrails; we touch grocery carts and then rub our eyes, mouth or nose and boom… we’re infected. Wash your hands frequently, if you need to cough or sneeze and don’t have a disposable tissue, use the inside of your elbow (teach others to do this as well), and don’t touch your face. Stay well by disinfecting surfaces such as grocery carts, turning off faucets with a paper towel and using them to open the door. Staying healthy and boosting your immune system is your best defense. Three immune system wreckers include sitting around too much and not being active, eating a high trans-fats diet and too much sugar. During the height of cold and flu season or especially if you’ve heard of outbreaks it would be best to stay away from crowded areas, especially if you are immune compromised or elderly. Often you’ll see nursing homes and hospitals restricting visitation as they are experiencing high rates of infection.

It is important to consume foods that will help boost your immune system during an illness. Stay well hydrated and eat foods loaded with ANTI-OXIDANTS. Anti-oxidant rich food includes broccoli, cabbage or kale. Drink lots of caffeine free, low sugar drinks and eat plenty of phytochemicals which are plants, dark green, red or yellow vegetables and fruits especially citrus which contain Vitamin C. Two other options to naturally help alleviate symptoms would be garlic or ginger. Garlic contains alliin which is a powerful natural decongestant aiding in the removal of infected mucous and ginger is very soothing to the throat and helps clear passageways, make or look for ginger root tea. I always drink ginger tea with local fresh honey and a little cream when I am suffering from a chest or head cold. Avoid high sugar, high fat junk food. Gargle with salt water. (Yep my dad was right!) Salt water kills pathogens and eases inflammation and loosens mucous. Some people also swear by taking zinc lozenges as soon as symptoms emerge.

Some tips include: Avoid stuffy rooms; let some fresh air in by cracking a window; circulate the air — viruses on the move are harder to pick up; and use a humidifier which will help your symptoms as well as decreasing virus survival.

Call your doctor or seek medical attention if a cough persists for more than two weeks, fever and chills increase or persists for seven days, you have increased difficulty in breathing or faster breathing, a fast heart rate, persistent wheezing, and or chest pain — this may indicate that the virus has spurred a bacterial infection or pneumonia.

Please remember to contribute toward your OFA nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable at current levels without the support of participant contributions. Be aware that Food Stamps can be used toward your contribution. I do not want to have to make any further cuts to nutrition services. Thank you for your support.

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program provides nutritious noon meals at several Congregate Dining Sites throughout the county along with a Restaurant Dining Out Program. Our dietitian, Cheryl Walhstrom, RD is available for nutrition counseling in your home at no cost to you. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Call the office for more details and information.

Call 753-4471, 661-7471, or 363-4471 for more information.