Preventing Illnesses Throughout Cold and Flu Season

By: Taylor Napolitan

     As February begins and winter continues, a new increasing series of illnesses have begun spreading throughout our schools and communities. The prevention of these illnesses can easily occur. However, many people neglect these common preventions, such as washing your hands and understanding the spread.

     According to Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School’s Health website, understanding how infections are transmitted can help you avoid getting sick. Originally, no one understood that tiny organisms moved among person to person, carrying infectious diseases. Now, we know about the microbes, bacteria that cause illnesses, which enter our body through openings – our noses, mouths, ears, cuts, insect and animal bites, and more. The website states, “The best way to prevent infections is to block pathogens from entering the body.”

     Vaccinations are essential if you are to avoid getting sick. Children should receive their pediatric recommended shots and vaccines. Although vaccines and annual shots are not required, many healthcare providers recommend vaccines, not just to children, but also adults. Although vaccinations can, “cause common side effects, such as a sore arm or low fever, they are generally safe and effective,” states Harvard Medical students. 

     Family Nurse Practitioner, Missy Eckman, was interviewed by The Squire staff to share her opinions and medical expertise on the vaccines and shots, along with prevention tips for common illnesses. Eckman shared that teens can prevent getting sick by using health promotion strategies to “encourage a strong immune system.”

•           Getting adequate sleep, 8-10 hours per night. 

•           Having a healthy diet including fresh fruits and vegetables.

•           Adequate fluid intake.

•           Exercising.

•           Avoiding tobacco/ nicotine products, alcohol, and non-prescribed drugs. 

•           Washing hands/using hand sanitizer frequently, avoid touching one’s face. 

•           Wearing a face mask if indicated. 

•           Ensuring vaccinations are up to date, including Covid-19 and influenza vaccine.

•           Staying home if you are sick.

     The primary way to prevent infections, aside from vaccines and annual shots, is good hygiene. Following good personal hygiene habits will prevent infection before it begins, avoiding the spread to others. Washing your hands well after using the bathroom, before preparing food, and after other ‘dirty’ tasks like dishwashing is important. You should also wash up after coughing, blowing your nose, or sneezing; feeding or petting your pet, or visiting or caring for someone who is ill. Washing and covering all cuts or scrapes and making sure any serious animal bite is examined by a doctor is also good practice. Do not pick at healing wounds or blemishes, especially on your face. Avoid sharing dishes, drinking glasses, and eating utensils. Building up your tolerance to the different germs will help you overall by helping illnesses be less severe. 

     Young children, elderly, and people with chronic conditions that may affect their immune system are seen as the most commonly ill and should be more cautious about these nasty bacteria spreads. Eckman shared that the most common communicable illnesses in teens are viral upper respiratory infections, including “common cold,” influenza, and Covid. Eckman added, “We also see strep throat, mononucleosis, gastroenteritis (stomach flu), and sexually transmitted diseases in teens.” People are most likely to be exposed to communicable diseases like influenza, “common cold,” or Covid in enclosed, crowded places with poor air ventilation. Students should check in with their doctor if a person is having trouble breathing or chest pain, and they should seek emergent care. Eckman stated, “Otherwise, a typical upper respiratory illness will resolve in 7-10 days on its own. If symptoms are worsening or persistent, one should seek further care.”

     It is important to wash one’s hands to break the chain of infection. Our faces, including eyes and mouth, are portals of entry for pathogens. People frequently touch their faces, which allows these pathogens an opportunity to infect. They also touch other surfaces that can spread these germs to others. Handwashing is one way to prevent the spread of pathogens. It is important to be aware of spreading germs to protect oneself, but also to protect the young and old who are susceptible to severe disease. 

    Being sick is not something to take lightly, so make sure you stay safe and keep those nasty germs out of your immune system.

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