Health column: Sharing isn’t always a good thingMy husband is a wonderful man, but he seems to be particularly good at sharing lately. What’s wrong with that, you ask: Isn’t that one of the fundamental things we learn in kindergarten? Not when he’s sharing viruses.
By: Ann Busche, For the Budgeteer News
My husband is a wonderful man, but he seems to be particularly good at sharing lately. What’s wrong with that, you ask: Isn’t that one of the fundamental things we learn in kindergarten? Not when he’s sharing viruses.
First he shared with me the common cold; next he shared with me the stomach flu. Both times, he stated he was surprised I got sick because he knew I’d gotten the flu shot.
Wrong, both times! The flu shot helps to protect against the influenza viruses that cause the upper respiratory symptoms called the “flu” but does not protect against the 200 some viruses that cause the common cold, nor the rotaviruses, noroviruses and adenoviruses which cause vial gastroenteritis — i.e., the stomach flu.
So, how do you know what’s making you sick?
The easiest distinction is between the influenza “flu” and the viral gastroenteritis “stomach flu.”
Influenza symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Viral gastroenteritis symptoms include watery diarrhea and vomiting, but can also include headache, fever, and abdominal cramps.
So think of the flu as symptoms from about the lungs or ribcage and above, and the stomach flu as symptoms in the stomach and below, generally speaking.
When I was sick with the stomach flu I was very tired and slept more in 24 hours than the family dog (not an easy thing to do, as she’s very talented at napping!). Luckily, my symptoms lasted only about one day; but they can last anywhere from 1 to 10 days, depending on the virus involved.
Recovery usually happens without needing to see a doctor; the biggest thing is to drink lots of fluids. The stomach flu can become serious for infants, young children, the disabled, and elderly adults who may not be able to take in enough fluid to overcome those lost by vomiting and diarrhea and become dehydrated. Be sure to call your family physician if the stomach flu symptoms don’t quickly resolve or if you are concerned about dehydration.
A bit more difficult is the difference between the common cold and the flu, as both have upper respiratory symptoms. The common-cold symptoms include sneezing, stuffy or running nose, sore throat, coughing, watery eyes, mild headache and mild body aches. Perhaps the biggest difference would be the severity of body aches, chills and fatigue, which are greater with influenza.
The germs that cause the common cold start by irritating the nose and sinuses; and in response, clear mucus is produced and there’s a lot of nose-blowing being done. After a few days, the body fights back through the immune system and the mucus changes from clear or white to yellow; in fact, green mucus is common, and does not mean an antibiotic is needed.
The common cold is caused by a virus, and antibiotics target bacteria; so generally, if you get better after starting an antibiotic, it’s more likely to be a coincidence, when in fact the immune system has done its job and taken care of the virus.
Again, rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medications aimed at relieving symptoms are what you need when you have a cold. However, call your doctor if you have a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees, have symptoms that last longer than 10 days, or have symptoms that aren’t relieved by over-the-counter medications. Also, if you have an infant under the age of 3 months with a fever, call your doctor right away to discuss.
The way to stay healthy is the same regardless of the virus involved — wash your hands and try to avoid contact with sick family. I’ll still kiss my husband good morning and good night, even knowing the health risks I’m taking.
Ann Busche is the director of Public Health and Human Services for St. Louis County. Contact her at 726-2096 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.