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By: Thomas Osborne, M.D.
Every winter, we hear stories about people getting sick with the flu, but this year itís made headline news. This yearís flu season began earlier than usual and has caused outbreaks in a number of states.
Also known as influenza, the flu is an infection of the throat, airways and lungs and can be caused by a variety of viruses. The flu is a serious illness that often comes on suddenly and can make you ill for a week or longer with coughing, fever, muscle aches, sore throat, chills, fatigue, watery eyes, headache and nasal congestion.
The flu is spread by the transfer of germs through the air in tiny water droplets, known as droplet spread or droplet transmission. Droplets are released when someone with the flu sneezes or coughs. Typically, droplets can only travel about three feet before falling to the ground. If a droplet comes in contact with your nose, eyes or mouth, however, you could contract the flu. Likewise, if a droplet falls on a surface -- such as a door knob, countertop or computer keyboard -- and you later touch that surface and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth, you may contract the flu. Crowded indoor environments can promote the chances of this occurring, which may explain the increase in cases of the flu during the winter months.
Treatment for the flu includes plenty of rest, drinking liquids and taking acetaminophen for pain and fever. Antibiotics donít work against the flu. Unfortunately the only ďcureĒ is time and rest.
If youíre like most people, you want to avoid a bout with this yearís illness. For many, this meant getting a flu shot in October or November. Being immunized against the flu isnít the only way to protect yourself, however. There are a number of behaviors you can practice every day to protect yourself from the flu.
Keep your hands clean and away from your face. Washing your hands often is probably your best defense against the germs that can live in everyday places like shopping cart handles, telephones, doorknobs and faucet handles. Refraining from touching your face helps to keep the germs away from your nose, mouth and eyes -- all places that a virus can enter your body.
Avoid sharing food or eating utensils. Germs can spread when two people share a can of soda or use the same fork to nibble on that piece of chocolate pie. Donít be afraid to get your own fork and this goes double for your toothbrush.†
Sneeze and cough into a tissue or your sleeve. Germs and viruses cling to your hands and wait to be passed off onto the doorknobs and sink handles referred to earlier. If you canít sneeze into a tissue, turn your head and sneeze into the open air.
Stay hydrated. Water helps to flush out your system, ridding you of waste while it hydrates your body. A typical, healthy adult needs sixty-four ounces of fluids each day.
Keep your home germ-free. This means disinfecting the most probably places for germs to land -- surfaces in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Breathe some fresh air. A regular dose of fresh air is important, especially in cold weather when central heating can dry out your body and make you more vulnerable to the flu. During the winter months, people typically spend more time indoors, which creates the scenario of more germs circulating in crowded, dry rooms.
Keep moving. Regular exercise is important all year long and especially during the winter months. When you exercise, your heart rate increases, you breathe faster and your body heat increases, causing you to sweat. These factors help increase your bodyís natural virus-killing cells.
Eat your fruits and vegetables. The natural chemicals found in plants give the vitamins in fruits and vegetables a supercharged boost. So donít be afraid to ask for a second helping of dark green, red and yellow fruits and vegetables.
Weíre just about midway through the flu season -- which officially goes from October to April each year. It sounds almost too simple to be true, but maintaining healthy habits can go a long way toward helping you stay well during the flu season and all year long. Exercise, a healthy diet, drinking plenty of liquids and practicing infection control habits will all help decrease your susceptibility to the germs and viruses that are out there so youíll be free to enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season!
Dr. Osborne is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.