It’s estimated that most adults get two to four colds a year and kids may catch as many as eight to 10. You’d think with that much time spent coughing and sneezing, we’d be experts on the cold and flu.
However, each year these common maladies seem to cause as much confusion as they do congestion, and too often our treatment plans are based on myth and advertising hype.
Next to an annual influenza vaccine and washing your hands frequently, accurate information is your best defense against cold and flu.
What’s your cold and flu IQ?
1. Keeping your immune system strong and healthy is imperative during cold and flu season. What can you do to help boost your immune system and fend off viruses?
A. Get enough sleep.
B. Manage stress.
C. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
D. Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
E. All of the above.
Answer: E. Everyone can use a little TLC during cold and flu season to help build up our defenses against nasty viruses.
A University of Chicago study found that men who had slept four hours a night for one week produced only half the amount of flu-fighting antibodies in their blood compared with those who slept 7 1/2 – 8 1/2 hours.
A daily 30-minute brisk walk or three 10-minute walks is the minimum you need to help pump up your natural defenses against viruses.
A well-nourished immune system is better able to fight off infections. It needs to be fueled with natural vitamins and antioxidants found in dark-green, red and yellow vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean protein.
Although short-term stress can boost the immune system in a “fight or flight” response, chronic, long-term stress suppresses the immune system and makes you more vulnerable to illness. To help reduce stress and tension: Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing; exercise; care for a pet; and communicate with someone you trust.
2. There are many ways to catch a cold or flu. Which is NOT a likely way to become infected with a cold or flu virus?
A. Touching the door handle at the bank entrance.
B. Being on an airplane with a coughing, sneezing seatmate.
C. Going outdoors in winter with wet hair.
D. Using the grocery store pen to write a check.
E. Shaking hands at a business meeting.
Answer: C. The flu and colds are more common in the winter months because that’s when more people tend to be indoors together and viruses spread across the country, the American Lung Association says. The viruses have nothing to do with the temperature outside or damp body parts.
You can become infected by touching an object with flu or cold virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Cold viruses can linger on surfaces as long as 18 hours after initial contamination, according to a study conducted by the University of Virginia Health System.
Catching a virus on a plane is often easier than it is most of the time on the ground because the air in planes is recirculated. A Harvard Medical School study found that the rate at which flu spreads for the season is predicted by the number of airline passengers in November. The more packed our planes at Thanksgiving, the quicker we’re likely to see the flu season peak.
3. Some of the main differences between a cold and influenza are:
A. The flu comes on more suddenly than a cold.
B. High fever is more common with flu.
C. Severe body aches and fatigue are more common with the flu.
D. A cold has a productive cough, flu is dry and hacking.
E. All of the above.
Answer: E. The flu can be mistaken for a bad cold, especially in the beginning. But the clue that gives flu away is the intensity of the virus and the duration of lingering side effects. Body aches, fatigue, and high fever can be severe and are not common with a cold. Symptoms of the flu can occur suddenly, whereas you may experience a slightly scratchy throat, stuffy nose a few days before a cold hits. The hacking cough that commonly comes with the flu can last for weeks after other symptoms subside.
4. What may decrease the severity and duration of a cold?
A. Vitamin C
D. Drinking a couple extra glasses of fluid a day.
E. Hot toddy
Answer: D. It’s especially important to keep well hydrated during cold and flu season. The extra fluid helps replace the moisture lost from coughing and sneezing and thins mucus secretions.
A 2007 review of 30 studies found vitamin C doesn’t reduce your chances of getting a cold and is unlikely to affect an existing cold’s severity. Same goes for Airborne or Echinacea. And, although a hot toddy may taste good, it’s important to avoid drinks with alcohol when you have a cold because they can lead to dehydration, the opposite of what you want.
5. You should NOT get a flu shot if:
A. You’re over 60.
B. You’re allergic to eggs.
C. You haven’t had the flu in the past five years.
D. You’re pregnant.
E. You’re a child six months to five years old.
Answer: B. The viral material in flu vaccines is grown in eggs, so anyone allergic to eggs should not get the vaccine.
According to the CDC, flu shots are recommended for adults over 50; children ages six months to five years old; adults and children with chronic medical conditions, especially asthma, lung disease and heart disease; all women who will be pregnant during flu season; residents of nursing homes; health-care workers; and any person who wishes to avoid the flu.
6. At the first sign of a stuffy nose and sore throat, skip the gym and head for the sofa. Exercise during a respiratory virus makes illness more severe and last days longer. True or false.
Answer: False. Exercise is fine if you feel up to it and don’t have a fever, severe muscle aches or a cough that produces thick phlegm. A 2001 study found that people who exercised moderately for 40 minutes while under the weather didn’t get worse. But, they also didn’t get better any faster than those who skipped workouts. A more recent study in the American Journal of Medicine showed that sedentary post-menopausal women had twice the risk of getting sick compared with women who exercised regularly. But, don’t overdo. Overtraining may run down your immune system and make it harder to kick a virus.
7. Colds and flu are very contagious. If you have the bug, how long can you expect to be contagious?
A. Only while you exhibit the worst symptoms.
B. The first week of a cold and two weeks after you’re sick with the flu.
C. Two or three days after cold symptoms appear; one day before flu symptoms develop and five days after you become sick.
D. As long as you’re sneezing and coughing, you’re contagious.
Answer: C. A cold virus is most contagious during the first couple of days, often the worst part of the illness when you are sneezing, blowing, and coughing the most. The flu, on the other hand, may be contagious before you even know you’re sick. That’s why it’s so important, especially during cold and flu season, to be diligent about protecting yourself and others. Medical experts recommend frequent hand washing or using hand sanitizers; not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth; sneezing or coughing into a tissue, not your hands; and staying home if you are ill.