Cold & Flu Season – Take Steps to Protect Yourself

Winter is accompanied by many fun activities from skiing and snowman building to ice-skating and hot chocolate. A not so fun aspect of winter is cold and flu season. Unfortunately, that season has arrived in Colorado. Cold and flu season typically peaks December – March of each year.

Colds and the flu are viruses that do not respond to antibiotics. But, the flu can be much more serious than a cold. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year.

How can you tell cold and flu symptoms apart?

Cold symptoms often include a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, mild fatigue, headache and a cough.

Flu symptoms tend to be more severe and can occur suddenly. They can include fever, significant fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, chills, sore throat, cough and a stuffy or runny nose. Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children than adults.

People who have the flu may be able to infect others at any point from one day before getting sick until five to seven days after.

The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get a flu shot. The risk of contracting the flu declines by 50 percent if you get that shot.

All adults and children should get a flu shot. An annual flu shot is recommended for kids ages six months and older. Children six months through eight years old require two seasonal flu vaccines (given at least four weeks apart) during their first season of vaccination. This helps to optimize their response to the vaccine.

Many people think that you can get the flu from a flu shot. That is simply not true. The flu shot does not contain any live flu viruses. Any minor reactions you experience, such as body aches or a slight fever, are due to your body building up its defenses against the flu.

A question I’m getting from patients a lot this year is about the FluMist nasal spray, and if it is as effective as the flu shot. My recommendation is in line with the CDC’s: no. Over the past three years, research has shown that the flu shot provides much stronger protection than FluMist.

Colds and the flu spread person to person through bodily contact. To help prevent the spread of these viruses, the best thing you can do is keep your hands clean. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Using plain soap and warm water is as effective as using antibacterial soap. Carry an alcohol-based hand gel to use when you can’t wash. Try not to touch your face and if you have to sneeze or cough, do so into your elbow.

Stay home and don’t expose others if you’re sick. Sip broth or herbal tea to soothe your throat, relieve congestion and keep hydrated.

On average, it will take one to three weeks for a cold and flu to run its course. If you do find yourself coming down with a virus, gently ease back into a normal routine once you start feeling better.

For more information on the flu shot and how you can protect yourself this season, visit kp.org/flu or call the recorded flu hotline at 1-866-868-7091.

– Patricia Dietzgen, D.O. is a family medicine physician practicing at the Kaiser Permanente Frisco Medical Offices