Have you ever noticed that people tend to come down with more illnesses
like head colds and the flu, in the winter? Ever wonder why? It is a misconception
that cold temperatures cause the flu. The influenza virus itself must
be present to cause the flu. Research has found that many respiratory
viruses, such as influenza, are best transmitted in cold, dry climates.
So we in Montana are set up for a rough winter in more ways than just
shoveling snow and sliding on ice.
The actual flu “season” in the U.S. starts in October and typically
ends in March. Changes in our typical lifestyle habits during the colder
months are theorized to contribute to the increased number of respiratory
illnesses, like the flu. These lifestyle changes include closer quarters
with people staying indoors and breathing the same air as others who are
ill. Decreased exposure to sunlight can lower our Vitamin D levels which
can compromise our immune system.
Since flu has a “season”, the timing of the flu vaccine is
essential for maximum efficiency. The flu vaccine takes about 2 weeks
to establish antibody protection within the body. Therefore, obtaining
the vaccine before the flu spreads to your region provides the best protection,
but getting the vaccine anytime during the season is still helpful. The
flu vaccine only protects you from three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1)
virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus. It does not
protect you from the common head cold which is caused by a completely
different virus. It will not protect you against the “stomach flu” either.
Those most at risk for having complications from influenza include those
with weaker immune systems such as those with COPD and other lung diseases,
diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and recent surgery. Complications include
pneumonia, respiratory distress and sepsis. If you work or live directly
with one of those high risk individuals, you can help protect them by
obtaining a flu vaccine and/or avoiding close contact if you have symptoms
of the flu. Symptoms include: body aches, headache, fever (101 degrees
Fahrenheit or higher), runny nose, cough. Prevent spread of the virus
by avoiding going out in public if possible when ill with the above symptoms.
Keep your hands washed or use hand sanitizer. Do not cough in to your
hand and discard tissue after use. Get plenty of rest and support your
body and immune system with healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Consider talking to your health care provider to see if taking supplements
such as vitamin D, vitamin C, and probiotics may be right for you.
Questions and or comments regarding this week’s health column please
contact, Katherine Herczeg, MSN, APRN at Bitterroot Physicians Clinic
South, a service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 3334 DVN Lane, Darby,
MT 59829, a service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital – visit us
at www.mdmh.org. Working together to build a healthier community!