Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cold, Flu, Whatcha Gonna Do? by Carol Ross

Are you one of those people who breaks out the hand sanitizer every time someone coughs? Do you time your trips to the grocery store for early morning or late at night to avoid the mass of sneezing shoppers? And still, wipe down the cart with an antibacterial wipe? All after wiggling and contorting your body in order to get a piece of clothing between your hand and the store’s door handle? Have you been known to avoid social gatherings because you know a friend or family member has been sick? Are you sometimes referred to as a germaphobe by family members, friends, or co-workers as a result of your answer to the previous question? 

If you’ve shouted a resounding yes to any of these questions or if you’re nodding along to all of them at this point, just know that it’s okay. You’re not alone.  Stay with me, I’m going to give you some valuable information and some well-deserved validation.

With my local hospital here in SW Washington reporting a record number of flu cases shuffling miserably through their emergency room doors and my blog partner’s daughter down with a vicious stomach bug, I’ve been thinking a lot about the amount and variety of illnesses going around. (Pausing here to send strength, prayers, and healing thoughts to Amy Vastine and her little one.)

Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard the word “flu” tossed around a bit this winter. But how do you know if you have it? If you have to ask, you probably don’t. A cold is typically some combination of congestion, sneezing, sore throat, coughing, and a headache. The flu is more like you have a bad cold AND you’ve been hit by a bus. Not to discount the hard-working rhinovirus (or its cold-causing cousins) because sometimes colds can be so nasty it’s difficult to tell. Experts here at WebMD say that usually with the influenza virus you will have a fever and often the symptoms come on quickly and severely.


Does it matter at that point, you might be asking? Sick is sick, right? Definitely! And when you’re curled up on the couch wishing you’d bought stock in Kleenex and it hurts to even blink your eyelids, all you want is someone to pass you the Nyquil so you can sleep until the evil passes. The distinction is important sometimes, though, because the influenza virus can lead to serious complications, like pneumonia. (If you get a bad cold that you suspect is the flu, you need to see a doctor.)

The “stomach flu,” on the other hand, that dreaded vomit-inducing scourge that rages through entire families in a single weekend isn’t really the flu at all. It’s gastroenteritis and can be caused by both viruses and bacteria (think food poisoning.) Again, if you’ve got it, you don’t care where it’s coming from you just want it to go away. But it’s helpful to know the difference so you can apply (or not) effective treatment.

But what happens when, despite all of your wiping, washing, and people-avoiding, you get sick with a cold or flu anyway? Aside from rest, staying hydrated, a good book and a warm blanket, here are a few other helpful hints and busted myths that apply.

*Antibiotics are not effective against either the cold or flu. (I think we all are aware of this one by now, but it never hurts to mention in case you’ve been living in a WWII bunker for the last decade.) There are a few antivirals available now like Tamiflu and Relenza that can shorten the severity and duration of the flu. None of these work on a cold, however.

*Vitamin C, zinc, Echinacea don’t prevent a cold or flu. I know a lot of people swear by these remedies and I don’t want to discount them. From what I’ve discovered, none of them can keep you from getting sick, but there is evidence that they may help you get better faster. And I’m onboard with that! For the price of these relatively inexpensive treatments and the other health benefits they provide, these supplements are nothing to sneeze at.

*Chicken soup for the soul and a cold? Yep. Turns out chicken soup is real, it’s delicious, and it can be helpful in easing cold and flu symptoms. Chicken soup (or any hot liquid) can help reduce congestion, it is hydrating, and it might even help with inflammation. (Shout out to Mom for force-feeding me Campbells in my weakest moments.) Check out this article from CBSnews.com for more detailed information.

*Over the counter medications (like NSAIDS, antihistamines, decongestants, etc.) can be helpful in relieving pain and other symptoms. There are a lot of powerful meds out there promising all kinds of relief for just about any symptom. The “cold and flu” aisle can be overwhelming. These pills can also be powerful and may come with side effects and/or drug interactions. It’s best to consult your doctor or pharmacist to find the one that will work best for you and your virus.

*Cough syrup is a waste of money. Okay, this one may just be my personal opinion. But I did find an article that said that drinking warm tea with honey is probably just as effective. Plus, with tea you get the added bonus of hydration. I’ve heard from reliable sources (thanks, Dad) that a shot of brandy or whiskey in the tea helps, too.

So, tell me, what lengths do you go to, to avoid catching something? Or maybe you just figure if you get sick you'll deal with it then? And when you or yours do get sick, what are your tried and true methods for relief? 

For more information about Carol Ross, please visit her website: carolrossauthor.com

29 comments:

  1. Your timing is perfect, Carol. It seems as though everyone I know has come down with a bug of some sort this part week.
    I'm proud to admit that I'm a MAJOR germaphobe. I keep Wet Ones everywhere. When a co-worker or family member wants to wash their hand, they know where to go.
    I'll step out on a limb and say despite being on a medication that greatly reduces my immune system, I haven't been sick with a cold or the flu in years. Exercise, rest, eating healthy, and supplements have worked well for me...and the Wet Ones. :) Stay well!

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    1. I'm so glad to hear I'm not alone, Jill! There are some really nasty bugs going around right now. And I think our germaphobe tendencies might really be preventing us from getting sick. A

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  2. I get my flu shot, stay hydrated, and...have been lucky. This was a great post, Carol.

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    1. Thanks, Liz! Getting your flu shot is a huge preventative tool, especially in those years where they get the strain right. I think a bit of luck plays into it as well. I always attribute it to that when my husband gets something and I don't or vice versa.

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  3. I get my flu shot, too, and I find it does help! I have a child in elementary school, and when he comes in the door we're always ordering him to wash his hands. Oh, the germs children pass around! LOL!

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    1. Good for you for getting that shot! Experts are telling us it pays off. I know what you mean about kids and germs, Lol! My sisters are both elementary school teachers and I think that has "encouraged" my germophobia! Hand washing is a great habit to establish in your little guy as young as possible.

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  4. Terrific post, Carol!

    Amy, I hope your daughter feels better soon.

    I tend to take reasonable, common-sense measures to avoid bugs. If I catch anything, it tends to be on a flight. It can be hard to avoid it in the pressurized environment. Since I was on an airplane for over six hours yesterday, I'm hoping I didn't catch anything! :)

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    1. Thanks, Kate! Oh those airplane rides freak me out germ-wise. I imagine the plane as giant flying petri dish. Hope you had wonderful trip(:

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  5. Good post and timely as I know a lot of people who are sick. I do some of those things. Use the sanitizer on grocery carts and carry some in my purse for if I eat out after shopping. I get irritated with people who go places sick and say it's allergies. I do get flu shot. I wondered if you were going to mention the hot toddy. My folks swore by them. Amy and your daughter---get well. Everyone else, hope you stay well in this odd, changing weather across the country.

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    1. Thank you, Roz. Yes, it seems like everyone I know has at least one sick person in their house right now. And you're doing everything right. And my research revealed that it all can work. My dad also swore by a hot toddy. Of course, he liked one every now and then when he wasn't sick, too(: As for this crazy weather - we woke up to another 5 inches of snow this morning.

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  6. Wow, I felt like I was reading a magazine article. You need to send this in...
    I'm surrounded by kids -mine, the neighbors, the ones I teach - and if a germ shows up at my house, I usually asked it "Would you like a juice box?"
    I go to the store when I can squeeze in time and by the time I remember there's a sanitizer, I'm in the cereal aisle. I don't get the flu shot because shot and "needle" are synonymous. I'm almost afraid to tell you how long it's been since I've had the flu.
    Love, love, loved your post though.

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    1. Lol about the kids and germs! Thank you for making me laugh, Pam. I didn't intend for this post to be quite so long, but once I started reading about the flu I couldn't seem to stop. You know how that research thing goes... Yes, that might fall in with my germ/flu phobia. I know what you mean about not saying how long it's been since you've had the flu - you don't want to jinx yourself!

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  7. Great timing for your post, Carol. I came down with a cold this week! I've been drinking lots of hot lemon water and taking Vit C, so I can confirm I feel much better already! A very timely topic, that's for sure.

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    1. So sorry, Tara! It's just terrible out there right now, germ wise. Yes, keep drinking that lemon water and taking your VC! Some chicken soup and a hot toddy wouldn't be a bad idea either(;

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  8. I get the flu shot as well, but like Pam, rarely remember to sanitize my hands until it's too late. And I get furious with people how 'soldier on' bringing their illnesses to work or wherever. If you have a cold or the flu, STAY home until you're not contagious. Thanks for a timely article.

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  9. Hopefully, that shot will protect you when you forget, Patricia. (At least where the flu is concerned.) People knowingly spreading their germs makes me furious, too. It's not about them being tough, it's about making other people sick! I have a 90-year-old father-in-law and when someone knowingly exposes him to something I just want to shake them.

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  10. Okay, Carol, you get the Roz Denny Fox Award for most informative and educational post. This is great! Still in the middle of a not-too-terrible cold. Always use DayQuill and MyQuill and wash my hands constantly so Ron doesn't get it - but I have to stay so close to help him with everything that it's almost a given he'll get it, though I try. We're both generally pretty healthy, so that's a good thing. The toddy is wonderful - and for those who've never had one - put any kind of booze in the bottom of a mug, top up with boiling water, add a shot of lemon and a tablespoon of honey. It's yum and very comforting! Great job, Carol!

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    1. Lol! I know, Muriel! I didn't mean to get quite so carried away. But you know how that research thing goes sometimes. Sorry about your cold! I'm always amazed when my husband gets something and I don't and vice versa. I think overall general health is super important, especially for recovery. My dad swore by a toddy, too. He usually used tea. We woke up to about 6 inches snow this morning! I'm wondering if you've got any snow out there on the Coast?

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    2. We have snow, too! Quite a bit for us and it's still falling! So glad I don't have to be anywhere.

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    3. Me, too, Muriel! It's really pretty, but such a mess. Two of my friends in neighboring towns are already out of power. I feel like we're next. I've been scrambling around doing dishes, laundry, and trying to finish up revisions, lol!

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  11. Thanks for the reminders, Liz. It's important to take precautions, which is something I learned when I was raising kids and teaching school. Bless their little souls, they were like walking petrie dishes.

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    1. Teaching school was probably a good way to build up your immune system(: My sisters are both elementary school teachers and there is always something going around. Although, right now it seems worse than usual.

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  12. I sure could have used this post a few days ago! I've been sicker than a dog since Saturday. After 17 years of teaching kindergarten, not much brings me down, but something got me good! Great information. I'll have to remember all that. :)

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    1. Oh, LeAnne, I'm so sorry): There are really some nasty bugs going around. It's like the viruses are taking a cue from this winter weather and upping their games. Get well soon!

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  13. Hi Carol!! Thanks for the tips and valuable information. I don't think I'm a fanatic when it comes to avoiding catching illnesses from others, but I do try to take precautions when I go to public places. I use sanitary wipes to wipe down shopping cart handles (carry them in my bag), and watch out for folks that I see leaving restrooms without washing their hands (yuck), or for those who sneeze or cough into their hands. Other than that, I hope for the best. I think I might fall into the OCD designation rather than germaphobe.
    Hoping you and yours are healthy and cold and flu free. ( :

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    1. Hi Laurie! You're welcome. I think we all know this stuff but it never hurts to remind myself. Especially when it seems like everyone I know has at least one sick person in their house right now. I'm not sure I'd be considered a germophobe in the clinical sense but, like you, I do try to be careful. And it's nice to know that the experts tell us that these efforts do pay off. Wishing you good health, too!

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  14. Excellent post, Carol! I have one kid who is now in control of his ocd germaphobia (seriously) and another who is dead set against any antibacterial gels or wipes because he doesn't want to cause resistant bacteria. We don't use antibacterial soap in the house because it tears my skin up and I'm convinced plain soap and water is best. We do do tons of hand washing lol.

    And I soooo agree about the cough syrup!! I make an herbal tea out of fresh oregano and thyme (other stuff too, like sage for an expectorant, usually, but these are two potent ingredients). We either drink it or inhale the steam for congestion and cough. Both herbs are antiviral/antibacterial etc... I also take astragalus root capsules and grapefruit seed extract to help boost the immune system. I swear it works, but I'm into herbal/natural methods (and of course each person has to be sure nothing is contraindicated with their other meds or health conditions).

    With school aged kids, it seems that someone is always catching something, though! I just beg them not to bring home a virus when I'm on deadline lol.

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    1. Rula, LOVE this! Thank you. I was hoping more people would chime in with their natural home remedies. I like the sound of this cough syrup. Don't be surprise when I email next time we get a cough around here. Your son is right about the antibacterial soaps! I don't use them either. Scientists say good old-fashioned soap and water is best. I understand your other son's germophobic tendencies. I felt myself going that direction when I was younger. Glad he's got it managed. But it is a scary germ and virus filled world out there(:

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  15. Flu shot. Antibacterial wipes on the shopping cart. Wash hands when I get home. Vitamins. Exercise. Still got the wicked cold thing before Christmas. One year I caught the real flu and took (I think) Theraflu. Boy, it works, but when I saw the doctor, she almost put me in the hospital. Thought I had pneumonia. My heart was racing. But it was from the medication! 😀 Great post, Carol. Hugs to Amy and her family.

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