By Barbara Pierce
Winter is here. More of us will get colds, flu and viruses during winter months.
According to the CDC, viruses like colds, the flu and the highly transmissible coronavirus variant, omicron, start climbing in November and hit their peak between December and February.
Viruses that cause colds and the flu thrive in dry, cold conditions — coupled with the fact that our body’s ability to fight them is decreased.
These viruses tend to enter through our mouth and nose, which usually have strong defenses against viruses. The cold weather slows down these defenses. And, less sunlight and time outside means our bodies get less vitamin D, which is important to battle illnesses.
There’s no data to show that being chilled causes a cold, despite your grandmother’s warnings. Research showed the opposite: when people showered, got their hair wet, then stayed outside in the cold with wet hair, they didn’t get colds. It’s definitely a myth.
The common cold is caused by a viral infection of your nose and throat, your upper respiratory tract. It’s usually harmless, though it might not feel like that. Many different viruses can cause a common cold.
The flu is caused by a flu virus.
Omicron and other variants of COVID-19 are also caused by viral infection, the coronavirus.
Germs is the catch-all term to describe bacteria or a virus.
Because these illnesses all have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them. Specific testing is needed to confirm a diagnosis. Having a specific test allows you to get diagnosed and treated for the specific virus you have more quickly.
In general, flu symptoms are worse than the common cold and can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Flu and COVID-19 can also have serious complications.
Ways you may be asking for a cold, flu or other virus
You’re leaving yourself open for a cold, flu or other upper respiratory virus if you’re doing any of these things.
• Not washing your hands thoroughly. If you do some kind of quick-splashing thing, followed by an “all done,” you are leaving yourself open for a cold or flu virus. Cold-causing viruses can live on your hands. Regular handwashing can help protect you from getting sick. Frequent, thorough handwashing protects against a variety of illnesses, including colds, flu and COVID-19 variants.
Thorough means lathering up with running water and soap for at least 20 seconds, long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
If you’re not near a sink, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a runner-up.
• Touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Viruses enter your body when you touch your hands to your face. Your hands touch elevator buttons, door knobs, all the different places you go; viruses jump on your hands, then you touch your face many times a day, giving the viruses a free ticket right in to inflect you.
• Being around people who are sick. Germs are how viruses are spread. Sick people can spread virus-containing germs when they cough, sneeze or blow their nose. Watch a sneeze in slow motion on YouTube; it gives you a sense of what happens and all the particles that are produced with a sneeze. And, stay home when you are sick.
• You didn’t get the flu shot and COVID-19 booster.“Everybody, all ages, should get the flu shot,” said Nat Meks, pharmacist at Geneses Street Price Chopper in Utica. “And everybody should get the COVID-19 vaccination and boosters.”
How to Feel Better
There’s no cure for a cold. To feel better, you should get a lot of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
“We’ve got a variety of over-the-counter medicines for a cold and the flu,” said Meks.
Over-the-counter medicines may give you some relief from your symptoms, will help you feel better, but will not make your cold go away any faster.
If you’ve got the flu or a variant of COVID-19, stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, use over-the-counter medications to help you feel better and stop your cough. Sit in a steamy bathroom if you’re stuffed up. Antiviral medications will ease your symptoms and make your flu go away faster.
Antiviral medications and antibiotics are not at all the same. They aren’t interchangeable. Antibiotics don’t work for infections caused by a virus, such as colds, flu or variants of COVID-19.
Antibiotics don’t fight viruses; they fight bacteria. Using antibiotics for viruses can put you at risk of getting a bacterial infection that is
Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at email@example.com.