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HOW TO SURVIVE THE COLD AND FLU SEASON
By Jack M. Bertman, M.D.
Mono County Health Officer


Winter is here, at least as far as the weather goes, and with it comes our annual visit by our old friend the influenza virus. Each winter this creature makes its way into the United States making many people quite sick and many more very uncomfortable. In fact, the Center for Disease Control has been predicting a bigger than normal flu outbreak for the past several years. This hasn't really happened yet, so this could be the year. Flu vaccine has been given to those most susceptible and hopefully this will offer some level of protection to those most vulnerable to the disease. But even if you got a flu shot, there is still a small chance that the strain of flu virus that reaches us this winter will be different from those strains that the vaccine protects against. This is possible because each year's flu vaccine is produced to counter the three strains of flu virus that are projected to cause the most trouble, and sometimes a different strain sneaks in and gets a foodhold. Still, many of us will get the influenza virus or another upper respiratory virus that makes us sick this winter.

Influenza is a disease characterized by a chest infection with cough, fever, and muscle aches. It usually lasts a few days and is best treated with rest, fluids and cold medicines you can get at the pharmacy. Standard antibiotics have absolutely no effect on the influenza virus. But sometimes a secondary bacterial infection can get started on top of the flu or another respiratory virus, and bacterial infections are treatable with antibiotics. Signs of bacterial infections might be production of lots of colored sputum, illness that lasts beyond a few days, and inability to hold down fluids. If you are having these symptoms, or if you become dehydrated and weakened by the flu, you should consult your doctor. Those at greater risks for these problems include the very young and the elderly, and those with an underlying medical condition that decreases one's ability to fight off infection.

Flu is spread by person-to-person contact with the virus, usually in the droplets of moisture in a cough. To prevent the spread of the virus, if you are around sick people try not to expose yourself to coughing individuals, and if you get sick, cover your own cough. Also, if you are sick, you need lots of rest and fluids. If you get exhausted the likelihood of a longer and more difficult illness increases. Your physician can help you if you become weakened, dehydrated, or just can't seem to shake the illness.
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