Beware the ill sounds of the winter cold and flu season

Posted: Tuesday, November 01, 2005


  In order to stay healthy during the winter, health-care workers recommend flu shots and frequent hand-washing. Clarion file photo

In order to stay healthy during the winter, health-care workers recommend flu shots and frequent hand-washing.

Clarion file photo

"Ah-choo," "Waaah," "thud" and "Mommm" are sounds that, unfortunately, will be common soon.

The cold and flu season is upon us, snow and ice glaze Kenai Peninsula streets and sidewalks, and kids are rudely reminded they forgot to wear their gloves or mittens before venturing outdoors in subzero temperatures.

Kenai Public Health nurse Robin Nyce has some tips, however, that might help people get through the winter season without the pains and without suffering too much of winter's ills.

When it comes to colds and flu, Nyce recommends hand washing as a key preventive measure and suggests people stay home from school or work if they're sick.

"That greatly reduces the risk of spreading (the illness) to other people," she said.

Nyce also advises people get a flu shot to help prevent being infected by the influenza virus.

How do you know if it's a cold or the flu?

"High fever, chills and body aches accompany the flu," Nyce said, adding that the fatigue and other symptoms of flu last longer than cold symptoms up to two weeks.

In the medical community known as upper respiratory infections, colds generally come with watery nasal discharge, progressing into nasal congestion and hoarseness and sore throat.

Sneezing also accompanies a cold as do mild headaches and an overall feeling of being unwell, according to a Mayo Clinic Web site.

To avoid the long "Waaah" sound, which is generally followed by a thud, wear cleats on shoes and boots, advises Nyce.

"Preventing falls is a big issue on the Kenai Peninsula," she said.

In addition to equipping footwear with anti-slip devices, Nyce recommends spreading ice melt products on slick walkways and driveways.

Nyce said the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has official guidelines for when school children cannot go outside because of extreme weather conditions, but she said it is important for kids to get outside whenever conditions do permit.

"If kids are adequately dressed, and they're supervised, they can and should go out and be active," she said.

She suggests kids wear mittens, boots, coats or jackets clothing that covers all skin and fits well.

Kids should dress in layers and wear face masks when it really gets cold.

Nyce said it also is important to keep hydrated during extremely cold weather.

Steps leading up to frostbite and hypothermia include reddening skin; white patches appearing on exposed skin indicative of frost nip; loss of sensation in exposed areas indicating frostbite; and skin becoming hard, white and numb the onset of deep frostbite.

At the first signs, people should try to put exposed areas in warm, not hot, water.

"Never rub frost bitten areas," Nyce said, and counter to folklore, never rub snow on frost-bitten areas.

Extreme exposure can lead to hypothermia.

Without wearing an extra layer of clothing in winter, more body heat escapes than the body can produce. If too much heat escapes, the result is hypothermia, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Signs and symptoms that may develop include gradual loss of mental and physical abilities.

Confusion, dizziness, ex-haustion and severe shivering indicate the onset of hypothermia. Medical attention should be sought immediately.

Severe hypothermia can lead to death.

When getting wet and cold while skiing, snowmachining, hunting, fishing or camping in cold weather, the best remedy is to move indoors and get warm and dry before developing hypothermia.

Taking a few preventive measures can assure safe and healthy outdoor, winter activity.

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