NORMAN — Tis the season for stores and malls crowded with holiday shoppers, for holiday parties and for family gatherings, but it also is the time when we tend to spread wintertime illnesses along with all of that holiday cheer.
“This is the time of year when doctor’s offices get very busy. If you or your children have been battling sore throats, coughs and the aches and pains that often accompany illness, you are not alone. It seems when people gather, we see more illness,” said Dr. Robert Welliver, an infectious disease specialist with OU Physicians. “The good news is that a little prevention can go a long way toward keeping you and your family healthy during the holidays.”
Flu shot: The flu is miserable and being down with influenza is no way to spend the holidays. A flu shot is valued protection during the winter months and it is not too late to vaccinate.
“Influenza is serious,” Welliver said. “Everyone should get vaccinated — it protects you and keeps you from spreading the virus to other people.”
While timing of the flu varies and is sometimes unpredictable, seasonal flu activity usually begins in October, then peaks in January or February and ends as late as May.
This year, a new quadrivalent — or four-part — vaccine is available for the first time in an effort to target even more flu strains. The flu shot is available through your health care provider and at many pharmacies across Oklahoma, too.
Welliver added that it also is important to make sure that all of your child’s vaccinations are up to date.
Hand-to-hand contact: “Hand washing is so simple and yet such a powerful weapon when it comes to illness prevention,” Welliver said. “Although viruses are sometimes spread through the air, the most common method of transmission is by hand. So the more we wash our hands, the fewer infections we are going to contract.”
Proper hand washing takes a little effort. Ideally, lather your hands with soap and water and really scrub well for 15 to 30 seconds. Interestingly, though, even a cursory hand washing, if done often, can help prevent the transmission of illness.
Another tip is to avoid coughing into your hand. Instead, cover your face with your arm and cough into your elbow. This helps keep disease-spreading bugs from getting on your hands and being spread to others.
Don’t touch your face and teach your children not to touch their faces either. Welliver explained that bacteria and viruses sometimes can be on the surfaces we touch. If we then touch our eyes, nose or mouth, they have entry into our bodies and can cause infection.
Eat well, sleep well: It’s sometimes too easy to put healthy nutrition on the back burner in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, but good nutrition helps boost the body’s own illness-fighting power. So do keep proper nutrition in mind in the midst of your holiday celebrations.
“Family schedules often go out the window during the holiday season. Bedtimes slide to make room for parties and family gatherings, but sleep is really vital to staying healthy,” Welliver said.
Sticking to regular mealtimes and bedtimes helps ensure better nutrition and adequate rest for our children and for us too.
Stay home when sick: If you aren’t feeling well, doctors advise staying home from work or school to feel better sooner.
“Interestingly, staying home can help prevent the spread of illness, but not eliminate it altogether. That’s because often you are contagious days before you experience your first symptoms; but staying home definitely will help you feel a lot better, a lot sooner,” Welliver said.
Some people will till try to keep going by taking medication. Medications can help reduce the fever as well as the aches and pains that go along with many wintertime illnesses; but as the medication wears off, you will start feeling badly again. Ultimately, Welliver said rest is what your body needs most when battling illness. So stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids.
No magic pill: Winter-time illness is common and you may want to check in with your pediatrician or family physician, but remember there is no magic pill that will make you suddenly feel better.
“A lot of parents believe that antibiotics will help, but antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Welliver said.
Some folks believe that large amounts of vitamin C will ward off illness. Welliver said while it won’t hurt you, it probably won’t help much either. Zinc is another supplement that has grown more popular in recent years with claims that it can reduce the severity or duration of cold symptoms. However, recent research found no differences between individuals receiving zinc and those receiving a placebo.
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