Avoid cold and flu this season

As the cold and flu season approaches, we should examine our attitudes and practices about those illnesses, which can become more severe as we age. Better to be safe and sound than suffer with an avoidable, potentially life-threatening sickness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nine out of 10 flu-related deaths and 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations occur in the senior population. Short of such serious outcomes, the flu or a cold can make for a miserable few days, or longer, even for people in otherwise tiptop health.

Although the viruses that cause colds and flu are unrelated, they both affect the upper respiratory tract, so they often produce similar symptoms. However, headaches, body aches, fatigue or weakness and muscle pain are more common to the flu, whose symptoms also have a faster onset. But even a low-grade cold can cause uncomfortable, even life-threatening symptoms.

People often become resigned to coming down with a cold or the flu. Not everyone realizes that practicing simple habits can decrease our chances of contracting them — in any season. In addition to receiving a flu vaccination, which this year protects against three flu strains, including the H1N1 virus, here are some easy practices for prevention:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer as soon as practical after any potential exposure, including ATM use and shaking hands

  • Don’t touch your face. Even if germs are on your hands, they can’t enter the body unless you touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

  • Don’t share food, drinks, lipstick, Chap Stick or toothbrush with other people, even family members. Germs easily can carry from one person to another.

  • Avoid kissing on the lips if you feel yourself getting sick. And clean doorknobs and bathrooms often with disinfecting cleaner.

  • Get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of water so your body will be able to fight off illness. Stay home if you are sick. No need to spread your germs to others!

  • When entertaining: Find ways to keep guests from using common serving implements; set out easy-to-access bottles of hand sanitizer; disinfect doorknobs and bathrooms after they leave.

  • When traveling: Wipe down your room with disinfecting wipes; include doorknobs, bathrooms, light switches and the TV remote — and wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer often
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