Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)
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Preventing Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

Written by FoundHealth, ColleenO.

Reducing Your Risk

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of catching a cold or influenza . They include the following:

Take Care of Yourself

Do your best to eat well, get the sleep you need, and keep your stress levels in check. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to support your immune system, and a healthy immune system can keep you from getting sick during cold and flu season.

Wash Your Hands Often

Hand washing is the most neglected, yet most effective, method of disease containment. The primary way of spreading both colds and influenza is person-to-person contact. Wash your hands often, especially when you come in contact with someone who is sick. Even if someone in your house has the flu, you can reduce your risk of getting sick by washing your hands.

Effective ways to prevent respiratory infections include:

  • Washing your hands thoroughly (15-20 seconds) with soap and water
  • Avoiding hand-to-hand passage of germs and droplet sprays from sneezing and coughing
  • Using alcohol-based hand gels when washing is not possible

Wear a Face Mask

If you have to be in close contact with a sick person, wear a face mask or a disposable respirator. Wearing a face mask and washing your hands can help to reduce your risk of getting the flu.

Do Not Share Items

Do not share drinks or personal items.

Keep Your Hands Away From Your Face

Do not bite your nails or put your hands near your eyes, mouth, or nose.

Avoid Crowds During Influenza Season

This may not be a very practical suggestion for everyone. However, if you are at high risk of catching a cold or influenza or are at risk for developing complications from these infections, try to avoid crowded areas or people who are obviously sick during the influenza season.

Get a Flu Vaccine

Each year, the World Health Organization tries to determine which strains of the influenza virus will be most dangerous in the upcoming influenza season. Vaccines are developed for these strains.

A vaccine against the seasonal flu is available. The strain for the pandemic H1N1 (2009) flu is included in the 2010-11 seasonal flu vaccine. You do not need to have a separate shot for protection against the pandemic H1N1 (2009) flu.

There is a vaccine against the avian flu , but it is not available to the general public.

Seasonal Flu Vaccine

The seasonal flu vaccine has been associated with fewer hospitalizations and deaths from influenza or pneumonia among the elderly living in a community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone aged 6 months and older should get a yearly flu vaccine.

There are two types of seasonal flu vaccines:

  • Flu shot—This is for people aged 6 months and older. The shot is made from an inactivated, killed virus. It is given by injection, usually into the arm.
  • Nasal spray flu vaccine—This is approved for healthy people aged 2-49 years who are not pregnant. It is made from live, weakened flu viruses. It is taken by nasal spray.

A possible side effect is a mild "flu-like" reaction, including fever, aches, and fatigue. Up to 5% of people experience these symptoms after getting the seasonal influenza vaccine. Some supplements might help your body have an effective response to the vaccine.

Flu vaccines are available at doctors' offices, hospitals, local public health offices, and at some workplaces, stores, and shopping malls.

Medication

Most people can make it through a flu season without the need for antiviral medicines. However, you may want to talk with your doctor about taking antiviral medications to lower your risk of getting the flu if you are exposed to the flu and:

  • Are at high risk for complications of the flu
  • Are a healthcare worker, public health worker, or first responder

Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza,) to prevent the flu. In the US, some strains of the seasonal influenza virus are resistant to Tamiflu, but it can be used for pandemic H1N1 flu . There are other antiviral medicines (eg, amantadine , rimantadine ), but these are used less often and do not work in treating pandemic H1N1 flu.

If you have the flu and live with someone who is at risk for complications (eg, elderly, babies, someone with cancer), that person may need to take antiviral medicines to prevent getting the flu from you. Remember that these medicines are not a substitute for getting vaccinated. Vaccination is still the best way to prevent the flu.

References

References

Beers MH, Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 17th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons; 1999.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma information for patients and parents of patients. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu/asthma.htm . Updated September 15, 2009. Accessed September 15, 2009.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key facts about antiviral drugs and influenza (flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/antiviral/keyfacts.htm . Updated April 7, 2009. Accessed September 1, 2009.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/FLU/protect/keyfacts.htm . Updated December 10, 2008. Accessed September 1, 2009.

Centers for Disease Control. Prevention and control of influenza. MMWR. 2006;55(RR10):1-2.

Drug Facts and Comparisons. 56th ed. Facts and Comparisons; 2001.

DynaMed Editors. Influenza antiviral treatment and prophylaxis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated March 29, 2010. Accessed April 1, 2010.

DynaMed Editors. Pandemic (H1N1) 2009. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated September 16, 2009. Accessed September 16, 2009.

Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Isselbacher KJ, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2000.

Key facts about seasonal influenza. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm . Accessed July, 2008.

McCoy K. Seasonal influenza vaccine. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15topicID=81 . Updated November 2009. Accessed December 16, 2009.

Prevention and treatment. Flu.gov website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated November 19, 2009. Accessed November 20, 2009.

Shannon DW, Stahl RJ. The avian flu vaccine. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=15topicID=81 . Updated August 2009. Accessed December 16, 2009.

3/2/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Belshe RB, Edwards KM, Vesikari T, et al. Live attenuated versus inactivated influenza vaccine in infants and young children. N Engl J Med. 2007;356(7):685-696.

10/15/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Nichol KL, Nordin JD, Nelson DB, Mullooly JP, Hak E. Effectiveness of influenza vaccine in the community-dwelling elderly. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:1373-1381.

11/9/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Cowling BJ, Chan KH, Fang VJ, et al. Facemasks and hand hygiene to prevent influenza transmission in households: a cluster randomized trial. Ann Intern Med.2009;151(7):437-446.

4/16/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Aiello AE, Murray GF, Perez V, et al. Mask use, hand hygiene, and seasonal influenza-like illness among young adults: a randomized intervention trial. J Infect Dis.2010;201(4):491-498.

8/10/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : Fiore A, Uyeki T, Broder K, et al. Prevention and control of influenza with vaccines recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2010. MMWR. 2010;59:1-62.

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