Stay on top of the cold season


Published: Thursday, November 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 6:56 p.m.

We have had the chance once again to welcome fall in all the usual ways. The children are back in school, football season is just beyond its mid-way point, the county fair has come and gone, and Halloween and carnivals have ended the month of October.

I challenge you now to give some thought to your health. There are some health issues that are fairly predictable this time of the year. You might call them seasonal health issues.

During the spring and summer, our focus may be on the sun, water accidents and diseases that are passed on to us from the bugs of the season. But fall and winter bring about a set of illnesses that are the cause of great concern among health care providers.

Now that we have welcomed fall (despite the absence of temperatures to prove that point), our concern must be with the threat to our health that coincide with the fall and winter months.

First of all, the No. 1 offender in the communicable disease arena is the common cold. The name of this illness does not begin to explain how bad you can feel. I must say too that although a cold can be a simple illness with very unpleasant symptoms, it does, for the most part, follow a short and predictable path.

In the very young and the elderly, colds can be much more of a health threat. The complications that may follow or accompany a cold are such things as bronchitis and/or pneumonia. The very young and the elderly should be checked by a health care provider if they experience symptoms that last more than a few days.

Keep in mind that prevention is the best way to go. If we are dealing with a communicable disease (one that is passed on from a person or object), there are guidelines that will serve us well. Experts still don’t know how to cure the common cold, but there are things we can do to prevent or reduce its occurrence.

Some folk think that the weather itself can give us a cold. Let me assure you that a cold, which in most people is caused by a virus, can and does exist during other seasons. The implication that the cold weather gives us a cold is a myth. What is likely to be the case is that the cold weather may make us more susceptible.

If our body is not kept warm, nourished and protected, it loses its ability to fight off such germs as those that cause the common cold. That’s why some people may be exposed to a person with a cold without contracting one themselves while others may come down with a cold.

We have all read the warning somewhere that it is time to get a flu shot. I hope those of us who are elderly will have their pneumonoccal pneumonia shot as well.

During the common cold season, we learn to cover our mouth when we cough, to turn our head away when we sneeze, and sometimes, we let the issue end there. I want you to keep in mind that if you are the one with the cold and you can’t stay home, there are precautions you should take to help those around you.

If you use the crook of your arm to your face to cough or sneeze, you eliminate passing the bug on when you shake hands with someone. If you use a tissue to cough or sneeze into, be sure to discard it in the garbage and either wash your hands with soap and water or carry one of the small bottles of anti-bacteria hand-washing solutions. If you have to be around others, you can just say to folks, ‘‘I have a cold, so I’m just keeping my distance from everyone.’’

I like to remind everyone how to effectively wash their hands. This is not an age-related issue to discuss, because although we are taught to do this as children, I know we are not all taught to perform this skill the same way but we can all probably remember our moms saying, ‘‘Did you wash your hands?’’ Moms had the right idea.

Let me just add to your mom’s advice by telling you to be very specific with the technique you use for hand-washing. First of all, keep in mind that of all the things you do during the time you are washing your hands it is the friction that is important. This fact, I hope, will let folks know that running water over your hands is ineffective. Here are a few hand-washing tips:

  • Wet your hands under running water.

  • Generously lather your hands with soap.

  • Rub your hands together, including the areas between the fingers.

  • Continue this process by applying friction between the hands as you lather.

  • While lathering the hands in this fashion, be sure to turn the hand over to include the back.

  • Next, be sure to scrub the wrist, including and about an inch or two above it.

  • Make sure you rub between each finger and under the fingernails. (A brush would be very good for the nails) Of course, if you are not at home, go under each nail with your other fingers.

  • Make sure you wash for 18-20 seconds. Some people sing the ‘‘Happy Birthday’’ song for timing.

    Can’t wash? Carry a hand sanitizer in your purse.

    And stay well, get your flu shot, and if you did not have one last year, ask about a shot for pneumonia.

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