The Winter Sniffles

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!

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