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Protect Against Winter Illnesses
By Amy Woolfolk
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Good health practices and cleaning habits can help protect people from widespread colds and flu during the peak of the season.
Dr. Mary Currier, state epidemiologist, said Mississippi has experienced an average flu season. The best news is that reports have been on two strains of Influenza A, which are easier to treat than Influenza B. Unfortunately, one of the strains (A-Sidney) could not be controlled by the vaccine.
"In general, people who are most at risk need to be vaccinated before flu season and then avoid large groups of people during the season," Currier said.
Linda Patterson, extension health education specialist for Mississippi State University, said following basic health practices helps the body defend against viruses such as a cold or flu.
"Eating a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins helps keep the body healthy," Patterson said. "Getting adequate rest and exercise also helps the body fight off germs."
Wash hands often to rid the body of germs. Keep dirty hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth to prevent germs from entering the body.
Patterson urged anyone sick to think of others and cover the mouth and nose with hands or a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of a tissue after one use.
Do not share personal items such as drinking glasses, cosmetics, combs and brushes, or medical equipment. These items can carry a variety of viruses and bacteria.
Good housekeeping habits can also help prevent sickness, Patterson said.
"Cleaning your home and clothing well can reduce contact with germs and the risk of sickness," she said. "Remember to protect yourself while you clean."
Wear gloves when cleaning kitchens and bathrooms and when taking out the trash. Use disposable latex gloves because reusable gloves may spread viruses and bacteria.
Patterson suggested mixing 1 tablespoon of bleach with 2 gallons of water to clean and disinfect counter tops, sinks and cutting boards in the kitchen.
Rinse eating utensils in hot water or put them in the dishwasher to rid them of germs.
Change sheets, pillowcases and towels often and wash them and other laundry in a disinfectant. This helps prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.
Avoid pushing down trash with hands or feet or reaching into the trash. Trash cans may contain many different kinds of germs.
"You cannot avoid contact with germs," Patterson said. "Wash your hands often and use good health habits and cleaning practices to prevent germs from entering the body."
Cold and flu viruses probably account for more trips to the doctor than anything else. If you are older or chronically ill, the doctor can give you a medicine that can reduce your flu symptoms. This medicine is not an antibiotic so it will work on a virus. It must be taken as soon as you have symptoms.
"If you get a cold or the flu, rest as much as you can. Take pain relievers for aches and fever and drink plenty of fluids. A vaporizer or a steamy shower can help ease a cough or congestion," Patterson said.
Some people have trouble telling the difference between a cold and the flu.
"The symptoms for the viruses are very similar," Patterson said. "Both can cause sore throat, cough, headache and fever. The main difference is the flu also can cause muscle aches and fatigue."
If fever lasts more than four days or if cough and congestion last more than 10 days, Patterson advised seeing a doctor. See a doctor immediately if breathing becomes troubled.