Cold and flu are nothing new. Fortunately, medical science has come a long way in understanding them—and yet, these seasonal viruses are a real concern for the average American household. That’s because every year, somewhere between 5% and 20% of the American population are infected with flu. When it comes to the common cold, the numbers are far greater. The average individual comes down with 2-4 colds per year.
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it’s easy to let yourself get apathetic about preventing flu and cold. But once you or someone you love comes down with the virus, you’ll wonder what exactly happened and how it could have prevented.
Let’s take a fresh look at cold and flu season, and how parents and families can prevent (or at least limit) these illnesses.
When is flu season?
The fall and winter months are generally considered to be flu season. The virus, which occurs in various strains, affects most people from December through March in North America. Historically, February is the peak month for flu infections. By April, cases of the flu drop dramatically and remain extremely slow until October.
The common cold follows a similar pattern, peaking around February and tapering off around April. In fact, without medical testing, it can be difficult to determine whether your illness is cold or flu.
What are the symptoms?
Common cold symptoms usually include sore throat, alternately runny and congested nose, coughing, sneezing, and sometimes a slight fever. Flu symptoms are usually more uncomfortable and intense. They can include any combination of fever, soreness in the muscles, headache, nasal symptoms, cough, diarrhea and vomiting.
What can be done to prevent cold and flu?
All leading health organizations, including Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization, recommend flu vaccination as the single most effective way to prevent flu infection in individuals, and limit the seasonal flu outbreak on a societal level. Walk-in vaccinations are often available at urgent care clinics, and the process is quick and easy.
Beyond vaccinations, there are several practical ways to limit and prevent both cold and flu.
- Wash your hands often with hot water and soap
- Frequently clean worktop surfaces and keyboards
- Avoid touching your face during cold season
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
- Don’t come into close contact with people who may be ill
- Keep your immune system strong by eating a vitamin-rich diet and getting plenty of rest
Concerns about vaccinations
There have been recent concerns about thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in multi-dose vials of flu vaccination. The CDC insists that thimerosal is safe in vaccinations and easy processed/eliminated by the body. However, it’s important for parents and individuals to be comfortable about the vaccination they are receiving. Read the CDC’s information page on thimerosal, conduct your own research, and be aware that you can ask your doctor for a single-dose flu shot without thimerosal if you so choose.
*Important note: For the 2016-2017 flu season. the CDC specifically advises against the use of nasal flu vaccinations. Nasal vaccinations have become popular in recent years, as they are much easier to administer for children. However, it’s important to stay informed about which vaccines are recommended every year. For the 2016-2017 flu season a flu shot is recommended for all patients.
A year without cold and flu!
As always, it’s important to consult your doctor or urgent care medical professional about any concerns you may have about cold and flu. Stay informed about what vaccination is recommended for this year, and keep in mind that children under six months should not be given flu vaccinations. So increase your awareness of how cold and flu are spread, and freshen up your prevention strategy. You’ll have a much better chance of making it through this flu season without being affected!