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Doing battle against common colds, flu
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kia Atkins, 35th Fighter Wing public affairs photojournalist, sneezes into a tissue while suffering from a cold at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 9, 2013. The average healthy, individual will suffer a cold at least three times a year or seasonally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the quantity of cold and flu-sufferers increase during October and last till February. For more information on health and wellness or to schedule an appointment, call your local at medical group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kenna Jackson)
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Doing battle against common colds, flu

Posted 1/10/2013   Updated 1/10/2013 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Kenna Jackson
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

1/10/2013 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Nobody wants illness as a guest, but upper respiratory infections and influenza keep knocking at the door. During the winter season, everywhere you look someone is coming down with the common cold and the flu.

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, which primarily affects the nose and throat. A cold isn't life-threatening, but an infected person's life could be disrupted for weeks.

Although the flu is a more severe disease and caused by a different type of virus, it is often confused with other influenza-like illnesses, such as the cold. Left unchecked, the flu can possibly lead to pneumonia and death.

Regardless of the severity of the two infections, neither sickness is welcomed by people as it often leads to: missed school, days off work, sleepless nights and generally incapable of performing daily tasks.

"When people get sick, they get achy, feel miserable and lose focus," said Capt. Julie Airhart, 35th Medical Group pediatrics nurse manager. "Keeping service members healthy is the best way to keep the mission going."

The common cold

Though a cold can't be completely averted, practicing good hygiene, eating healthy, well-balanced meals and exercising can help combat the cold. The average healthy adult will succumb to the common cold at least three times a year. According to Capt. Gabriel Harris, 35th Medical Group family health physician, a person first becomes contagious two to three days before symptoms begin and they remain transmittable until all their symptoms are gone. So most infected people could be carrying contagion for two consecutive weeks.

With this in mind it may be tempting to lock the sick person away in an isolation chamber at the first sign of a sniffle, but there are simpler and less drastic ways to prevent the spread of those pesky cold germs.

Some of the prevention techniques are as simple as remembering to wash your hands, disinfecting contaminated surfaces and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water is the single most important way to stop the spread of colds, said Airhart. When not near a sink, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is your best friend.

"Common cold germs can live for hours, so disinfecting your hands and areas commonly used, such as desk tops, doorknobs and toilet handles, can go a long way," said Harris. This doesn't mean one should obsess though, as there's no way anything can be completely sterile, he added.

You've heard it since you were little, but covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough is not just polite but good hygiene and one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. By coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow you prevent any germs from collecting in your hand or slipping through the cracks between your fingers, said Harris.

Even though it may be hard to see family or co-workers suffering, there are ways to help soothe cough and cold symptoms without running to a doctor.

"When it comes to the common cold, we can't really do anything that you can't do," said Harris. "It's a viral disease that's constantly changing, so there are no antibiotics to be given and no magic pill we can prescribe. Everything you need can be found over the counter at your closest shoppette or commissary."

Some of those medications commonly used are over the counter pain relievers, fever reducers, cough drops and suppressants and other decongestants.

"Chicken noodle soup, although not a cure, can also be used to help ease the soreness of the throat and clear up congestion," said Airhart.

Influenza or 'flu'

Though the flu overlaps some cold symptoms, leaving the flu unchecked can lead to potentially life threatening situations, like pneumonia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths in a three-decade period ranged from 3,000 to as high as 49,000 per season, with an average of 200,000 people a year hospitalized.

The symptoms of the flu are sudden fevers of 103 F or greater and body aches and pains in six hours or less, which is not a symptom of the common cold, said Harris.
"Unlike common colds, the flu is a 'rush-to-the-doctor' situation, especially for young children, senior citizens, pregnant women or those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease," said Harris. "These factors put you at high risk for serious flu-related complications."

According to the CDC, the most productive way to prevent from falling victim to this disease, other than talking to your doctor, is by getting the flu shot. The best time for getting the flu shot is sometime between October and November, with the flu season generally peaking in February. So a flu jab as late as January can still help protect you, and others, from getting sick.

"The best defense is a good offense," said Airhart. "To keep our service members healthy, happy and completing the mission with the alertness required of them, everyone needs to keep their body well conditioned. This makes it easier for the body to fight off infections as common as the cold and as deadly as the flu."

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