Steps help protect families against winter illnesses

For the past few weeks the national news has been full of stories about anthrax, a frightening disease associated mostly with livestock and wildlife, that someone has been attempting to spread to the human population through the mail. “Everybody is concerned because we heard so much information about anthrax,” said Dr. Carol Rice, Texas Cooperative Extension health specialist. “But what needs to be more considered is flu (and other illnesses common in winter). We’re going into flu season now.” She pointed out that while the numbers of people infected with anthrax is small, thousands come down with colds, sniffles and flu every year. And while colds and sniffles are usually minor, flu can be deadly. “We really need to be concerned about flu at this time of year’we should protect ourselves (from illness) during the holiday season,” Rice said. When families and friends travel for long distances to be together during the holiday season, they bring their germs with them, she added, and if they share those germs with others who are in close proximity, “then everybody gets sick.” Don’t think staying home alone and refusing to socialize is the only protection against germs this holiday season. Rice suggested some much less drastic steps that can be taken to protect against germs and communicable illnesses, including colds, flu and other common seasonal ailments: First and foremost, she advised: “Wash your hands. That’s a key thing because it will keep you from sharing germs.” In fact, she said, for prevention of all kinds of infectious diseases, “hand-washing is the number one issue.” Make sure to have a ready supply of paper tissues to catch those sneezes and coughs, and then be thrown away. Rice said cloth handkerchiefs do not provide the same safety that paper tissues do, because handkerchiefs are kept close at hand after being used ‘ which can spread germs and illness too. Besides, a ready supply of paper tissues can help prevent children from wiping their noses on their sleeves, Rice added, which is another way germs get passed around. And children often have germs to pass around. Rice quoted a pediatrician who once told her: “The only people who get sick more often than toddlers are their mothers.” That’s why teachers, child day care workers and others who spend large amounts of time with small children are among those recommended to get flu shots first. Flu shots can help anyone stay healthy, but they are especially recommended for those older than 65, people with such conditions as diabetes, heart disease or other chronic illnesses, she said. Another way to protect against disease is to keep the immune system functioning at its best, Rice said. “Remember, our bodies have very powerful immune systems to protect us from infections.” To stay as healthy as possible, Rice advised: ‘ Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products; ‘ If you must smoke, don’t do it around others’especially children; ‘ Exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week; ‘ Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day; ‘ Get a full eight hours sleep each night; ‘Don’t drink more than two alcoholic drinks per day; ‘ Stay current on immunizations. As Rice pointed out: “You are far more likely to catch the flu than anthrax.”

Leave a Comment