Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Surviving Cold and Flu Season

{ It's that time of year....not the most wonderful time of the year -- cold and flu season. Viral gastroenteritis hit our house like napalm on Friday. One minute, fine. The next, I was headfirst in the toilet bowl for the next three days. Then last night, just after I had my first full meal in days and thought I was turning the bend, my husband came down with the exact same thing. It was like watching a bad rerun.

It's going around like the plague, my friends. Word on the street (the clinic I work at) is that there's a norovirus (a virus that causes your GI system to act like the exorcist) on the loose. Fortunately, norovirus only lasts about 1-2 days and isn't not too dangerous, just gross. Strep throat, sinusitis, plain-jane runny noses colds and norovirus all follow the same rules of epidemiology. All of them are spread by contact with droplets or the infectious material to the nose/mouth. But good old fashion TLC and an attitude like a HazMat officer will get you through it. }

Tip #1: Wash your hands, then wash again.

I wash my hands a lot. Being a nurse, it's basically my life. But over the past week, I washed every even more especially after touching my mouth, before and after eating, and after any of that aforementioned gross stuff happened. Being diligent will keep a virus in check. It's no coincidence that hand-washing with plain ol' soap reduces bacteria by 82% and reduces viruses by over 50%.
- Keys to proper hand-washing are duration and intensity. Some sing "Happy Birthday" to help them reach the recommended 30 second minimum for hand-washing, but I turn hand-washing into "make-believe spa time" with fancy smelling soaps and nice warm water - do whatever mental trick works for you. You can use a nailbrush to make sure that you get under your nails and between your fingers.

Tip #2: Drink Plain Water

Drinking fluids not only replaces what your body loses through fighting infection and all the aforementioned gross stuff, it helps wash out your mouth/throat - ridding incoming germs and clearing phelgm. I'm a big fan of plain water, sometimes with a little pedialyte, gatorade, or juice.
- Strong flavors or creamy drinks might be aggravating to an upset stomach and cause you to throw up again which is why the doctor tells you to drink clear fluids. If you can see through it, you can drink it.
- Sugary drinks like soda or juice provide fuel for bacteria and can cause stomach upset, an unnecessary waste of energy to break down all that sugar, and wasting of water to dilute and digest all that sugar.
- If you're losing electrolytes via one end or the other, add more gatorade/pedialyte/rehydration salts. You can also eat your salt, magnesium, potassium, chloride, and calcium. Cheerios, yogurt, peanut butter, and enriched white bread pack a lot of these electrolytes.

Tip #3: Put Some Salt In It

Most of those cold season germs attach to an area in the back of the throat called the pharynx before entering the body. That's why most colds start out with a sore throat before turning into a runny nose or cough.
- Salt water gargles work. Add 1 tsp of table salt (less coarse=easy dissolve) to 1 cup of warm water. Hot water will dissolve the salt faster, just wait until it's warm before using.
- Neti pots are my bff. I get seasonal allergies, exposure to all sorts of germs at work, and occasional runny noses. Rinsing my sinuses with warm salt water (same recipe above) keep me functioning through all that. You might want to start with luke warm water and less salt until you get the hang of salt water up the nose.

Tip #4: Clean sheets, clean air

Florence Nightingale revolutionized the nursing profession with clean sheets, clean air, and clean hands. She was onto something.
- Wash all sheets, clothes, pajamas, towels, blankets, and sweaters whether or not they have witnessed the glory of your cold/flu/barf. Many viruses can live for up to a week on surfaces and fabrics.
- Get outside. Even though it's winter and you're sick, bundle up and try to get outside for 5 minutes. Getting fresh air and even a little walk can open up your lungs, loosen up mucus, and increase your oxygen levels. Oxygen is needed for every bodily function including fighting infections. Just stay warm. Colds thrive in (like their name) cold.

Tip #5: Eat what you can
I tend to believe "listen to your body" is the best guide for eating when sick. I know that your body needs extra calories to fuel an immune system in overdrive. However, most people have enough fat stores to get them through a couple days of being sick. Pushing foods only applies to the very young, very old, or very sick. If you want a milkshake, get it. If you are craving saltine crackers, your body is probably telling you it needs more salt. If you're dehydrated your body needs the salt to pull the water from your gut into the bloodstream. A few days of not eating much is not going to hurt most people, but a few days of not drinking can be very, very serious. So worry more about the fluids than the foods.

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