This morning as I was laying in bed, thinking about blogging, work, projects, plans, shopping…you know…all that stuff that keeps us up at night, my mind drifted to the current state of affairs in my world. No, not the increased violence both globally and nationally (what the heck is going on, people??). No, not the fear of global warming. No, not the alarm about catastrophic earthquakes poised to hit California. Rather….

Colds and Flu.

This has nothing to do with adolescent sexual health, other than being sick could be a deterrent for anyone to engage in sex. However, as a nurse, health educator, and someone who has studied public health, I could not pass on this opportunity to educate about simple ways to help prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses.

First, let me explain what these illnesses are, besides a pain-in-the-ass.

It is sometimes really hard to distinguish between the two, but the bottom line is, the flu is worse. You feel worse, and the secondary infections* are much worse and can require hospitalization – about 200,000 a year, in fact.

The good news is that once you have a certain virus, you are immune to it for life. That bad news is viruses are constantly changing, and there are countless ones out there. You won’t be immune to those unless you suffer through the effects of that particular strain or are vaccinated. And there is no “cold vaccine” out there yet. However, there IS a …..

Flu Vaccine

I get mine every year. No brainer. It’s usually free with insurance, or never more than 20 bucks. It only takes a few minutes at your local doc-in-a-box.

Many people choose not to get the vaccine, despite the affordability and convenience. The most common excuses I hear include: “I don’t need the vaccine”, “the vaccine doesn’t work”, or “I always get sick when I get the vaccine”.
So, here’s what know….

Maybe they do not need the vaccine. Who am I to say? Some people don’t mind taking the risk of becoming ill. And if they do become sick, they just deal with it for a week or two then move on. Personally, that’s a week of hell I’d rather avoid. Been there, done that.

As far as the vaccine not working, well each year the CDC has to decide which strain of the flu is the one that will cause havoc. It’s a guessing game, but a very educated guess based on what’s going on in Asia. Sometimes it’s right on, sometimes it’s a miss. However, even if it’s a ‘miss”, the vaccine will still protect you from becoming severely ill if you become sick. It will help lessen the symptoms. And if it’s a hit, you may avoid the entire mess all together.

No, the vaccine does not cause the flu. If you get the vaccine then become ill afterwards, that merely means you received the vaccine too late – you were already exposed to the virus. Just dumb luck. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to kick in.

This is not to say some people can’t have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, but it is extremely rare. The healthcare provider will take your medical history to assess your risk.

Prevention, prevention, prevention.

No one is a hero when they come to work sick. You are not superwoman or superman because you can continue to function with a fever, headache, and body aches.

Think about how many people just one person can infect. Not only have they shared the virus with their own family, but now their co-workers and their families have now been exposed. If the business is client-based, each client that has walked in the door has now been exposed and will then unknowingly bring the virus back to their families and co-workers.

Please. Break the chain. Keep in mind a person is typically contagious one day before symptoms appear and up to 5 days after the onset of the illness began.

Once you are ill, it’s okay to rest. I have always said it’s my body’s way of telling me to SLOW DOWN. (Plus, a little movie-time is good for the soul, don’t you think?)

Here are some simple steps of helping to prevent the spread of the flu or cold virus:

!. Wash your hands. With soap and water. Just rinsing with water is NOT washing your hands.

I don’t mean wash your hands just once when you wake up. I don’t mean only after you use the bathroom (you DO wash your hands after you use the bathroom, don’t you?) I don’t mean just occasionally. I mean when you blow your nose or touch any bodily fluid – yours or another person’s (like your child’s runny nose), wash your hands with soap and water. Antibacterial gels are okay in a pinch, but soap and water is the best. As a rule of thumb, scrub your hands about 20 seconds to effectively remove the yuck.

2. Avoid touching your mucus membranes (aka: nose, mouth, eyes.) That’s like a little viral train depot – they love the moist, warm environment that enables them to take off on their adventure to Body Land.

3. Use disposable paper towels, not hand towels. If hand towels are used, replace or wash them frequently.

4. Dispose of used tissues properly. Don’t just throw them on the floor for someone else to pick up.

5. Sneeze in your sleeve (i.e. elbow), not your hand. Doesn’t it gross you out when people sneeze in their hands, then proceed to grab a doorknob, or fresh produce at the grocery store, or shake your hand? Just ewwww. Think about it.

6. No elbow? Sneeze in a tissue and dispose of it. Fluid droplets are the primary method of virus-sharing, so stop sneezing in the air.

7. Don’t put your grubby hands on food that others will eat. As a general rule of thumb, putting your hand into packaging to retrieve tasty morsels is never a good idea. Don’t stick your hand in a bag of chips or popcorn. Don’t put your hands in a bowl of M&M’s. Rather pour out your serving of chips or popcorn. Use a spoon to retrieve those sweet treats. That’s just a general rule of thumb when it comes to food safety anyway; often viruses are being shared before the person even knows they are sick.

8. Disinfect, disinfect, disinfect surfaces. Cold and flu viruses can live on surfaces for up to 8 hours. Death to the Germs!

9. Stay home and rest. Duh. The general rule of thumb is to stay away from humanity until you are fever-free (100 degrees or more) for 24 hours. WITHOUT the aid of medication, by the way. That’s cheating.

10. Drink lots of fluids and yes, eat chicken soup. It really has been proven to help with congestion, thanks to the warmth and steam.

11. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Years ago I was down flat with the flu. It was awful. But what made it worse was my three young daughters also had the flu. My husband was on vacation in sunny Florida, while we were hunkered down cozied up trying to feel better. (Do I sound bitter?) I didn’t have the energy to prepare a lot of meals, so I called a neighbor and asked if he would mind getting us some food for dinner. It was humbling, but that is what friends are for! I will never forget that kindness. If you have friends who are sick, I suggest bringing them a meal. Try to deliver it by drone so you can avoid the germ-fest. (And send me a video of that delivery – that would be so cool!)

Granted, it is not always easy to do all the stuff mentioned above all the time.

But be aware. Be considerate of others.

Getting your flu vaccine, staying home from work, diligent hand-washing, not touching your eyeballs, or picking your nose and teeth; those are simple steps we can take to prevent others and ourselves from becoming ill.

I have years of experience as an elementary school nurse. There was a funny comic shared with our good-humored nurses that shows a little boy talking to the school nurse saying, “I woke up coughing, with a sore throat, and a fever. My mom said to try and make it through the day.” HaHaHa. Okay – I guess you had to be there. Maybe it was just “nurse humor”, but trust me, it was funny. The truth is kids are often sent to school exactly like this! Certainly you can’t stay home, or keep your kids home, for every little sniffle. That is totally unrealistic. But if learning or working effectively due to illness is an issue, just take the day off.

Now for a personal story of which I am NOT proud. Years ago, when I was a young mom, there was a really great sale at a local department store. I felt awful, but not SO awful to keep me away from a S-A-L-E! I remember dragging my exhausted body through the store while carting my children around in their stroller. A salesclerk approached me and asked me if I was okay. Apparently I looked like the wife of Frankenstein. I don’t remember how I responded (possibly I was delirious) but she gave me a stern look and told me to go home and get some rest. I guess she told me! But she was right. Whenever I think about venturing out for a non-essential errand when I’m feeling under the weather, I think back to that incident and the wisdom of that crabby salesclerk.

It’s our nature as busy adults to keep persevering through hardships. It’s the American way! But I am urging you to take care of yourself. Cuddle up with a hot cup of tea, a great movie, your stuffed teddy bear (I won’t tell) and just take one day for yourself to try and get better. Your body, your co-workers, your friends, your family will be grateful to you.

Okay – the next blog will be back to talking about sex. I promise.

Stay Well!

*Secondary infections are infections a person may get due to the havoc caused by the flu virus. Typically seen in people who are elderly or who are immunocompromised (unable to fight off illness like the rest of us). This is why the flu vaccine is highly encouraged for certain populations.