The dreaded flu and cold season
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Jan 03, 2017
It’s that time of year again — everywhere you go you seem to be bombarded with people coughing, sneezing, and blowing their noses. These are symptoms that indicate that the dreaded cold and flu season is once again upon us, and many Bahamians will succumb to the illness at least once during the period.
Dr. Lynwood Brown told The Nassau Guardian in an earlier interview that you should not be quick to self-diagnose, because you could have a flu, which is more severe than a cold and should not be taken lightly, or a simple cold, which can be irritating, but isn’t debilitating.
“The cold is a common name for acute nasopharyngitis, a syndrome episode caused by the coryza virus that affects the upper respiratory tract namely the nose, throat and pharynx,” said Dr. Brown. “The flu [influenza] on the other hand is also caused by a virus — of which there are many strains. And you know that you have a cold versus a flu by the symptomatic episode that you experience for the duration of the illness; with a cold you will have a scratchy throat which can cause a cough, drainage of the sinuses, sneezing, congestion and in general you feel irritable. A flu on the other hand is associated with similar symptoms but they tend to be more severe. You will have the scratchy, itchy throat, runny nose, sneezing, but you will also experience malaise — an aching of the joints or all over the body, fatigue, a fever, a mandatory symptom that must be present to accurately diagnose if what you have is a flu versus the common cold and in general you will just feel really bad.”
Unlike a common cold, the flu is more serious and can lead to death if untreated in susceptible individuals, including young children; the elderly; and people with compromised immune systems such as those with diabetes, anyone taking steroids and those who are afflicted with cancer or who are HIV-infected. According to Dr. Brown, it is especially necessary for these persons to be careful during the cold and flu season and to get treated if they fall ill so that they don’t develop complications.
During the season, to lessen your chances of contracting or spreading the cold or flu, the family doctor says you should practice proper hygiene. Washing your hands regularly and ensuring that your environment is clean and sanitized are encouraged. If you work in an office building or use public facilities often, he says it is a good idea to travel with a pocket-size alcohol-based hand sanitizer so that you can wash your hands as often as you need to. When using public restrooms, after washing your hands use a hand towel to turn off the taps and open the door as well.
Practicing proper hygiene, he said, not only helps you get over your illness more quickly, but also helps in not spreading the virus as well.
Whether diagnosed with a cold or flu, Dr. Brown also advises that you stay home and rest.
“Remaining away from other people will lessen the likelihood that you spread the virus, and resting will allow your body time to kick start the immune system.”
He encouraged drinking orange juice, water and other liquids to speed recovery along. The liquids replace fluids and vitamins lost through secretion by sweating while ill. Eating more nutritiously, he said, also helps in improving the immune system and overall health.
While the temperature outside may feel a little nippy at this time of year, Dr. Brown said that it is a misconception that the weather makes you ill.
“While the cold weather does play a role in the prevalence of viruses, it is not the cause directly. The truth is that the cooler weather at this time of year promotes viruses to thrive better and live longer, compared to the summer months when it is hot and the heat naturally decontaminates the atmosphere better. There are always viruses about and you can get sick at any time from one, but it is this season that they are so prevalent.”
The medical practitioner also dispelled the myth that you are no longer infected or contagious as soon as you feel better. According to the doctor, whether you have a cold or flu, it takes 10 days after showing symptoms of illness that you are no longer infectious and 14 days until you are no longer infected.
Because the cold and flu are viruses, they will not respond to antibiotics, which many persons feel are the answer to everything.
“The antibiotics can only help if you develop a secondary bacterial infection due to your immune system being weakened from fighting the flu or cold,” said Dr. Brown.
According to the doctor, the proper treatment for cold and flu infections is basically the same, although he says treatment is personally suited to each patient, depending on his or her susceptibility and symptoms.
“The treatment for a cold or flu is to basically treat the symptoms and let the body do the rest, so if you have a cough, we give you something to suppress it, and if you have a runny nose, we give you something for that. This gives you relief from the symptoms while the body can eliminate the virus through its natural defenses.”
This flu season, the doctor urges people to be careful and to understand their health. When you hear the first cough or feel the first sneeze, he said to visit your doctor to make sure that it is truly a cold or flu and not some other respiratory illness like rhinitis or pneumonia.
According to the family physician, whether it is a serious illness or not, if you feel sick, do not hesitate to call your doctor and be in as little contact with others as possible. He advised against letting a flu go untreated, especially if it appears to last for a longer period and is more severe than usual. If your flu is prolonged and unchecked, there are several complications that can occur, like contracting a viral pneumonia which is probably the leading cause of death in infected patients and is characterized by progressive cough and difficulty breathing. The pneumonia can progress to acute respiratory distress syndrome that is life-threatening and requires ventilation in an intensive care unit.
The doctor also advised that all persons be extra careful during the flu season. He also advised that everyone should get a flu shot, especially the elderly, young children and anyone with heart conditions.