You and your health

Prevention of common winter illnesses

Posted 12/1/21

We are now entering the time of year when we will experience an increase in the number of infectious diseases in our families, work colleagues, and the community. It does not mean that these …

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You and your health

Prevention of common winter illnesses


We are now entering the time of year when we will experience an increase in the number of infectious diseases in our families, work colleagues, and the community. It does not mean that these conditions only occur in cold weather, but rather in the winter we live and work in more confined spaces, where we are exposed to more droplet and surface-contaminated areas in the home, workplace and in public places. The pandemic of the COVID viruses has complicated this for all us.

Common winter illnesses  

Common cold: There are over 600 types of rhinovirus that cause this condition. We are all familiar with the symptoms: runny nose, sneezing, coughing, scratchy throat and watery eyes. Generally, these symptoms last 7-10 days, regardless of treatment.

We are generally exposed to cold viruses by inhaling infected droplets/mucus from people coughing close to us. To date, there is no vaccine.

Influenza: The flu season usually runs from October to March.   Symptoms of influenza come on suddenly and last longer than a cold. The classic clinical picture is a rapid onset of high fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, chills and harsh coughing. If you suspect that you have the flu, call your doctor, because there are medications that can shorten the duration of these symptoms.  COVID testing would also be recommended.

Strep throat: There are many reasons you might have a scratchy or sore throat. Most of our sore throats are due to viruses and not bacteria. However, streptococcus infections are different than viral or allergic causes, because of associated high fevers, more severe pain on swallowing and very red swollen tonsils, with and without white spots. If tests are positive for strep, antibiotics are appropriate.  

Acute bronchitis:  Bronchitis is the inflammation of the large bronchi of the lung and can be caused by infection from influenza, viruses and other bacteria. Regardless of the cause and in the absence of signs of pneumonia on X-ray, supportive care such as humidification, cough medicine and analgesics are generally recommended. The persistent cough can last up to 10 weeks.

Whooping cough (pertussis): Whooping cough in a healthy adult generally is mild but persistent. It can be prevented by making sure all children and adults in a household get a booster vaccine.  For premature and very young children, whooping cough can be life-threatening. There are annual outbreaks around the country.

Pneumonia: Most pneumonia is viral-related at the start, but the later invasion of bacterial or fungus infections makes the clinical situation very dangerous. It presents with a fever, confusion, severe mucus production, shaking chills and rapid breathing.  

COVID-19: In the last 18 months, coronavirus infections and the use of the three available vaccinations have been discussed extensively in this paper, on television and in other articles. This is a respiratory virus that requires close proximity to spread, so it is probable that we will see a spike in COVID-reported cases this winter. Vaccinations decrease the need for hospitalization and the number of deaths.

Minimize your risk of exposure

There are a number of ways of protecting you and your family from being infected by one of the above conditions.  Prevention centers on not transferring a virus or bacteria into our bodies.

Hand-washing techniques: We teach our children how to wash their hands, but in general, adults do a very poor job of adequately cleansing hands. Soap and water are still valuable in the prevention of spread. You can also use alcohol-based antibacterial gel in the same way if a sink is not available.

Avoid inhaling droplets: Be aware of your surroundings when in public or at work. If a person has to sneeze or cough, use a hanky, the crook of your elbow or Kleenex. Not washing your hands immediately will contaminate any surface you touch. The use of face masks has become part of our daily lives and is recommended when you are going into indoor spaces.

Importance of immunizations: Annual flu vaccination and an annual review with your doctor of needed booster vaccines is important to protect you and your family members. Typical boosters are influenza, tetanus, pertussis and pneumococcal vaccines (Pneumovax 23 and 13). Young children and adults over 65, health care workers and home-care professions are at the highest risk of suffering from complications of these infectious diseases. We will probably be adding COVID-19 immunizations to the list of annual immunizations.

Stay home: If you are sick, avoid bringing your infection to school or work and avoid exposure to people who are immune-compromised. You are not doing a favor to friends and colleagues by potentially infecting them. Do not visit family or friends who are hospitalized if you have a cold and actively coughing. COVID testing is now being used when you have significant respiratory symptoms or a history of exposure.

There are other viruses that can cause community outbreaks, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and norovirus, that can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal disease, but again, transmission can be reduced by following simple hand-washing principles and protecting yourself from droplet exposure. The use of a face mask is required at this time if you are working in a health care, food service, school, or many other settings.

cold, COVID-19, flu, winter illness, prevention


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