Cold and flu season survival

Each year, many people are affected by colds and flu - also known as influenza. Influenza, especially, is a highly contagious respiratory illness, which plays a significant role in morbidity and mortality. It is estimated that 1 billion infections take place each year, with 3 to 5 million severe cases. In the U.S. alone, each year there are 25 to 50 million documented influenza cases, 225,000 hospitalizations, and ultimately more than 20,000 deaths occur every year. These figures do not include undocumented cases and are based on data running until 2004.

It is therefore vital to be able to help yourself to survive cold and flu season.

What is the common cold?
The “common cold” refers to symptoms that are caused by over 200 viruses. The most common out of all of them is the “rhino virus” referred to as such due to the Greek word “rhī́s,” meaning “nose.” Viruses damage the human sytem by invading cells, and replicating themselves excessively. Viruses can enter through the mucus membranes of the body, which are found in cavities such as the eyes, the nose and the mouth. Once attached to the human cells, the immune system begins fighting the virus. 

What is influenza?
Influenza is caused by the influenza virus - of which there are a few different kinds. It is transmitted in similar ways to the common cold virus, and can be picked up by physical contact with infected surfaces, or through airborne respiratory droplets. Once contracted, the influenza virus can be more severe than the common cold as symptoms can range from fever, body aches, chills, to pneumonia in some people.

There are some things that can be implemented during the cold and flu seasons to help you to minimise the risks of contracting a common cold or influenza. Note that even though these are recommendations, even by doing all of these things, you may still be at risk of contracting a virus.

1. Make sure that you sanitise - hands, objects and surfaces.
Keeping your hands clean and sanitised is of utmost importance. This can be done by washing them thoroughly with soap and water, and by using alcohol-based hand sanitisers. Similarly, making sure that the objects that you use - such as your laptop, your cellphone, etc. - are kept sanitised is important too, as well as any surfaces that you are interacting with. Some people even go so far as to make use of gloves if they have them available. 

2. Avoid situations in which there are many people.
It may seem very obvious, but reducing your contact with people, and avoiding situations/places where there are many people is a great way to minimise your risk of contracting the flu or a common cold. This includes not sharing beverages, not shaking hands with people, minimising your time on public transportation, and not being in crowded places.

3. Boost your immune system.
Make sure that your immune system is functioning as best it can. Make sure that you are minimising your stress levels, eating a healthy and balanced diet, and get adequate sleep - as these are all factors that can help your immunity.

In the end, there is no guarantee that you will not get sick, but following these steps can potentially make it less likely. Always seek the help of a medical professional should you be feeling ill.

Biology Health