And so it begins: cold and flu season. Now, while there are distinct differences between these two ailments, being in proximity to a sneeze or a cough can spell trouble.
“Influenza is spread easily from person to person, primarily when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” said Val Sauda, director of outreach for Eastern Agency on Aging. “After a person has been infected with the virus, symptoms usually appear within two to four days, then the infection is considered contagious for another three to four days after symptoms appear.”
If you think about all the things in your daily life, from door handles to money, that are germ carriers, hand washing sounds like a must. And there are wonderfully scented, moisturizing soaps that can leave your hands feeling soft as well as clean.
If hand washing is not possible, try using alcohol-based hand sanitizers. These waterless cleaners are readily available in stores and come in handy purse-size bottles.
It is also very important to keep your hands away from your face. If, by chance, you have shaken hands with someone who is sick or have touched something they have touched, and then you rub your eyes or nose, the virus on your fingers has just found a way into your whole body.
The flu virus is also air-borne, so if you happen to be in the path of a cough or sneeze by an infected person, you could get sick.
And how can you tell if have the flu and not the common cold?
Flu can cause fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat and muscle aches. Unlike colds, influenza can cause extreme fatigue lasting several days to more than a week. While nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can sometimes accompany influenza infection, these symptoms are rarely prominent. The illness that people often call “stomach flu” is not influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.
Along with diligent hand washing and staying clear of people who are ill, a flu shot may be your best bet for good health.
“Getting a flu vaccination is not a 100 percent guarantee that you won’t contract the flu,” said Sauda. “However, should you get the flu, if you’ve had the shot, your symptoms will be reduced.”
For most healthy adults, the flu makes life miserable for about a week but generally does not cause any serious health problems. But for some people, including seniors, there is substantial risk when contracting the virus.
Almost overnight, the flu can bring on complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia, which can be life-threatening for an elderly person, Sauda added. Delaying treatment can make matters worse.
“Some people are still resistant to the idea because of an old myth that the flu can be contracted from the actual flu shot. This is absolutely not true,” said Sauda. “The virus in the flu shot is dead, completely inactive, so it is impossible to get the flu from the shot. There is absolutely no danger of that.
“If you have a fear of needles and are wondering about the ‘nasal spray’ vaccine, here is the scoop. The spray is only recommended for healthy people from age 5 to 49, and does contain live virus, although extremely weakened. If you are past the age of 50, your best defense against the flu is get the shot,” said Sauda.
Flu season is November to March, and since it takes about three weeks for the vaccine to “kick in,” call your doctor or find a clinic and roll up your sleeve today. And remember, the flu shot is covered by Medicare.
Carol Higgins is director of communications at Eastern Agency on Aging. For information on EAA, call 941-2865, toll-free (800) 432-7812, log on www.eaaa.org, or e-mail email@example.com. For TTY call 992-0150.