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Tis the Season

by Sandra Smith


No, I don't mean the holiday season, although that idea makes me feel ill too. My head and throat hurt and I have a mild cough, drippy nose and feel weak, exhausted and achy. I've been sick for a week. Do I have the flu or a cold?

The Influenza virus usually hits between November and early March each year. "Influenza starts abruptly with a high fever and a dry cough," says Winkler Weinberg, MD, head of Infectious Disease Services for Kaiser Permanente in Georgia. "It's also associated with severe body aches. But the hallmarks are the season and the abrupt onset." Once the virus enters your body, you can be contagious for three to five days after symptoms first appear. The flu can last from one to two weeks.

Colds are caused by more than 200 different viruses and can happen any time of year. Symptoms occur gradually over one or two days and include a low-grade fever, runny nose, red eyes, sneezing, coughing, headache and body aches. A cold usually lasts from one to two weeks.

Certain population groups need to be wary of the flu. According to the Center for Disease Control, Influenza causes 20,000 deaths each year and more than110,000 hospitalizations.

The CDC advises that flu shots are critical for people 50 years or older; residents of nursing homes; children and teens on long-term aspirin therapy; women who will be in their second or third trimester during flu season; and people of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lung, and kidneys, or who have diabetes, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia.

The best time to get a flu shot is from October through mid-November. But a shot can be effective at any time during flu season. Protective antibodies develop one to two weeks after receiving the shot. There are various rumors about flu shots including the vaccine causes flu, or that it isn't effective. Visit the CDC's site for a factual analysis of the vaccine:

Experts advise to treat symptoms, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Fluids are critical because they relieve dehydration caused by fever, and relieve coughs and loosen congestion.

Self-care Tips

If you do get sick, you can usually treat yourself by following the advice offered by Kaiser Health Services.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often.
  • Don't smoke. Smoke can irritate your throat and aggravate your cough.
  • Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Cold and flu viruses can be spread by airborne particles.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Hot water, herbal tea, or chicken soup help relieve congestion.
  • Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet. This helps build up your resistance to illnesses.
  • Use disposable facial tissues. Throw them away after each use.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid smoke. If you smoke, consider getting help to quit. Over-the-counter medications can be useful also. Be sure to ask the pharmacist whether OTC meds may react badly with any prescriptions you are currently taking. .

When Should You Call the Doctor?

Information at a Medicare website ( advises calling the doctor if you have signs of the flu and:

  • You have breathing or heart problems, or other serious health problems.
  • You are taking drugs that fight cancer (chemotherapy) or weaken your body's natural defenses against illness.
  • You feel sick and don't seem to be getting better.
  • You have a cough that begins to produce phlegm and turns wet.
  • You are worried about your health and have other questions.

Guess I don't really care whether it's the flu or a cold. Wonder what the medical community advises for the dreaded disease "feeling sorry for myself"? Gotta go check out where I can get a flu shot in the event I ever get well.



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