By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
The Center for Disease Control has announced it has been a bad flu season, but most of us have already figured that out by either coming down with it or knowing numerous friends, family and coworkers who have had it - or still do.
Those who haven't gotten the flu this year can count themselves lucky, but it's not too late to win that lottery. While it may be a strong immune system behind one's lack of illness, it may also be luck. It's best to take precautionary measures, especially when out in public. All of the basics like hand washing are as important as ever, but it's easy to forget that things like money and door handles can be as disease-ridden as shopping cart handles.
The CDC recommends the use of hand sanitizers, which are mostly alcohol, to kill germs. Most labels claim to kill up to 99 percent of germs, so watch out for those 1-percenters. And while the germs may be dead, they are still clinging onto your hands, so it's best to keep up with the washing.
If you've already gotten the bug, you may find it a lingering illness. All of the old basics apply here as well: keep up with fluids, get plenty of rest and limit how much you share your illness with others.
An oldie but a goodie is chicken (or other) soup. While it may not live up to its old-fashioned reputation as a cure for a cold or flu, it provides a lot of important things for a sick person. First, it provides liquids, and many of the unpleasant symptoms of a cold are due to dehydration. The saline broth can ease a sore throat while providing electrolytes and nutrients to the rest of the body. Soft-cooked vegetables provide an easy-to-chew- source of nutrition and can be filling at a time when one's appetite may be low.
While it's no substitute for a good humidifier or an ongoing pot of boiling water, the milky white steam floating away from a bowl of hot soup can provide speedy relief to nasal membranes in dry winter air, which can provide comfort if not a cure. Steam can also loosen nasal passages and alleviate dry skin some experience during cold winter months.
Soup is not alone as a home remedy for colds and flu symptoms. Hot toddies - whatever your family favorite recipe - can be helpful for similar reasons of hydration and comfort. New home remedies pop up in the news, blogs and in magazines every year.
Tea made with fresh ginger has been popular on blogs and other social media this year, and recipes can easily be found on websites which sell books, supplements and other articles offering miracle cures for weight loss, energy, disease control and plenty of other things. Like some ingredients found in grandad's hot toddy recipe, tea with lemon and honey can be soothing and provide minerals, but ginger also has a reputation for settling stomachs. Like lemon, it also contains a bit of Vitamin C along with about 10 percent daily allowance of B6, potassium, magnesium and manganese along with smaller amounts of other nutrients. It also tastes good, so it can be worth including in a home treatment arsenal. Simply steep one quarter of a lemon and about an inch of ginger sliced into segments for five to ten minutes in about a quart of water. Add honey to taste, and for best results, keep it in a thermos to keep it warm. Shake in a little cinnamon if you like, or some of grandad's favorite ingredients. It's not going to blast the illness right out of you, but it will help you feel better as the sickness runs its course.
How do you know if you have the flu or a common cold? According to the Center for Disease Control, you can't tell unless you get a blood test to identify the infecting organism, and knowing won't help much. The prognosis and treatment are the same, with rest and fluids as top priorities. However, for those who need them, drugs are available through a doctor. Zanamivir, the generic equivalent of Relenza, and oseltamavir, generic for Tamiflu, can be prescribed when intensive treatment is needed.
The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine, which changes every year as flu strains change, even if a person has already become sick. Without a test, it's impossible to know if the illness was the one of the flu strains so it recommends vaccination in case it was a cold or another virus.
The CDC also notes it takes the vaccine takes two weeks to become effective, is not 100 percent effective and only covers certain strains, so those who are vaccinated can still become sick. However, the CDC says the strains most commonly circulating during this season closely match the strains out and about infecting the masses. About 9 percent analyzed by the CDC from this season are not the strains present in the vaccine.
If or when you do get sick, by all means possible, keep your germs to yourself! Be careful where you sneeze, wash your hands and limit their contact with items others will touch. Avoid using any items shared with others, such as non-disposable bathroom cups, or indulging in habits that are already bad, like drinking from the milk jug straight out of the refrigerator unless you live alone. Stay home from work if you can when you are sick, and avoid contact with those whose immunity may be compromised.
So now that you have an excuse to skip that visit to Aunt Harriet in the hospital, wash your hands again and get some rest. It's the perfect time of year to stay in and get comfortable on the couch with plenty of pillows and blankets and a pile of good movies.
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