What to know for cold and flu season
Whether you live alone, or have a house full of kids, there's no escaping the fact that germs spread … quickly. A simple sniffle or cough can turn into a big problem for everyone in your household.
Now that cold and flu season is ready to return, it's never too early to start practicing the habits that can spare you a major illness this winter. Here are a few simple ways to control the spread of the illness this cold and flu season so you can care for your loved ones without picking up their germs along the way.
1. Know what you're facing.
Cold and flu viruses are spread by close contact with people who are sick, along with those on common home surfaces you touch everyday. But, if someone in your home comes down with an illness, you don't have to panic and quarantine your entire living area.
You see, the common cold is a mild respiratory illness caused by a virus, the most common of which is rhinovirus.Common symptoms include:
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Slight body aches or a mild headache
- Low-grade fever
The flu is a more advanced respiratory illness caused by various influenza strains that change pretty much every year. But the symptoms are pretty similar, and include:
- Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
- Chills and sweats
- Dry, persistent cough
- Fatigue and weakness
How can I tell the difference?
In the most basic sense of the word, the easiest way to tell if you have the common cold or the flu is the severity of your symptoms. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the common cold shares many of the same symptoms as the flu, but they are far less intense.
High fever, muscle or body aches and pains, chills and excessive fatigue are some tell-tale signs that you're dealing with something a little worse than the run-of-the-mill cold. The common cold will run its course in a few days with bed rest, fluids and cold and allergy products to manage your symptoms.
It's recommended that those with the flu virus start taking antiviral drugs within 48 hours of experiencing symptoms. With both conditions, if symptoms linger or become worse over time, seek medical attention right away.
2. Wash your hands. Then do it again.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it's not just about your hand washing habits. Think about the last time you were in a public restroom and you noticed that one person who chose to bypass the sinks on the way out the door.
To ensure others' germs don't end up in your home, thorough hand washing should be at the forefront of your mind during cold and flu season. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stands firm that soap and warm water is the best way to clean your hands, even more so than hand sanitizer. Practicing good hygiene, especially with kids, is the easiest way to avoid illness this fall.
3. Can't find your hand sanitizer?
For all of those times that you're not near a sink, hand sanitizer can kill germs in a pinch, but you should also be mindful of where it'll be located in your home, and where it'll do the most good.
High-traffic areas are your best bets, so keep a bottle handy near your home's entryways, outside of kids' rooms, and heavily-used living spaces. The more readily available it is, the more likely it is to be used.
4. While you're at it, sanitize everything.
If you or a family member has a cold, you should make an effort to step up your disinfecting routine around the house. WebMD suggests using a disinfectant to wash off commonly used surfaces like countertops, door knobs and handrails.
If you have small children, washing plastic toys in the dishwasher, and putting stuffed animals in the washing machine can also curb the spread of pathogens.
5. Cover your mouth!
Your parents probably mentioned this once or a hundred times. But it's no less true today than when you were a kid. If you come down with a cold or flu virus, be sure to cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing to prevent the spread of germs anywhere you are. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer close by, and think about buying a handkerchief to keep your mouth covered when tissues aren't available.