Review Feature

Cold War: Surviving the sneezin' season

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I do not handle illness well. Give me a mild case of the sniffles or up my body temperature to 98.7 and I immediately slip into my impersonation of Ali McGraw in "Love Story." I shuffle around the house, moaning softly and reminding my significant other that love means never having to say you're sorry.

Eventually, she'll beg me to suffer in silence at which point I will apologize (in real life, love means having to say you're sorry 300 or 400 times a day), return to my deathbed, and amend my will.

But at least I'm not sniffling, shuffling, and apologizing as much as when my children were preschoolers. When you have kids of that age group, it's not unlike owning your very own Germ and Virus Home Delivery Service.

For some reason, young'uns are the carrier of choice among microscopic vermin, perhaps because they're close to the ground and easier to board. Whatever the reason, as soon as a new cold or flu bug hits town, the first place it heads is the nearest preschool, and the first greenish goo it generates will flow from the nose of your bundle of joy.

Soon the child will be hacking and sneezing and trying to survive a fever that could thaw a frozen turkey from 10 feet. He will show no sign of recovery until the symptoms are passed to one family member, then another, then another. Weeks later, when your clan at last seems on the verge of renewed good health, the whole, horrid cycle begins again.

This scenario will continue until you're child 1) runs away from home, 2) goes off to college, 3) elopes, 4) is sold to medical science, or 5) is adopted out to some healthy, childless, unsuspecting couple who will be eternally grateful until they realize they're spending $37,000 per year on Vitamin C alone.

Fortunately, my children are no chip off the sniveling block. These kids aren't about to let a few overactive snot glands turn them into a pathetic shell of a human being like their old man. They can be flirting with double pneumonia, and they'll still beg to go outside and roughhouse with their pals. They only thing that will slow them down is any casual use of the word "doctor," which inspires them to improvise a soliloquy reminiscent of the scene in "Rain Man" where the Dustin Hoffman character expresses his opinion of air travel.

My son's only other weakness in this area is that he was born with a hair-trigger gag reflex and just about anything can set it off. He's been known to toss his Gummi Bears at the sight of Grandma's cat walking in the general direction of its litter box. And when he's really sick, the boy consistently breaks his own records in the areas of quantity, force, distance, and poor marksmanship.

But he doesn't whimper or whine; he just upchucks and gets on with his life. While this isn't a trait I brag about when showing off wallet-sized snapshots of the boy, I'll wager that even Arnold Schwarzenegger can't spend an entire day porcelain-bowlside without emitting at least one between-heave groan.

One time during his preschool years, I remember, my son was as sick as he'd ever been, but handled it with typical bravery. I'd just finished reading him Dr. Seuss's "Green Eggs and Ham" (which, incidentally, is not the ideal bedtime story for a sick child with a hair-trigger gag reflex) when he asked, without a trace of fear, "Dad, am I gonna die?"

"Of course, not, sweetheart."

"But when my goldfish got sick, he died. Now I'm sick, so I'm gonna die, too. Right?"

"Honey, you're just a little sick. You're going to get better."

Long pause.

"Dad, I'm waiting, but I'm still not better. I think I'm gonna die."

"Sweetie, believe me, you aren't going to die."

"But if I do ... are there toys in heaven?"

I'm pleased to report that my son recovered and no longer frets about spending the rest of eternity dead and toyless. The only reason I'm not overcome with joy is that the above-cited incident took place in 1989, and I've had a cold ever since.

Beating the common cold

Most people catch colds by inhaling the cold virus from someone who is ill or by having hand-to-hand contact with them. Contrary to popular belief, cold air won't make you more vulnerable to catching a cold, but dry air will.

The old saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is as true for colds as for anything else. Here are a few tips to help you avoid a cold this season.

Wash your hands frequently, and try to keep them away from your face.

Avoid people who are in the early stages of a cold, especially when they are coughing and sneezing. Cold viruses easily spread from the hands of someone who is ill to the eyes, nose and hands of someone who is not.

Keep kitchen and bathroom counter tops clean, especially when someone in your family has a cold.

Discard used tissues right away.

When indoors, make sure the air is not too dry. Dry nasal passages are more vulnerable to the cold virus.

Avoid smoky atmospheres and smoking cigarettes, which damage the nasal lining and make infection more likely. Smokers are more susceptible to colds and other respiratory illnesses.

Try to avoid excess stress, which lowers your immunity.

Get plenty of rest and don't let yourself become over-tired.

Include fresh garlic in your diet, as this has a natural anti-viral action.

Take 500-1000mg of vitamin C per day.

Beating Influenza

Influenza starts abruptly with similar symptoms to the common cold which then get significantly worse with sore throat, runny nose, cough, chest pain, fever, chills, headache, muscular aches, loss of appetite, fatigue and sometimes depression. Also like a cold, influenza is spread through close contact with someone who is infected.

The symptoms subside in 1-2 days, but it can take up to a week to recover from the flu. You can't treat the virus, as this is what your immune system is for, but you can treat some of the symptoms with bed rest, plenty of fluids, painkillers (e.g. paracetamol, codeine) and steam inhalations.

While most people consider influenza a seasonal annoyance, it can develop into more serious illnesses, sometimes resulting in death.

To help avoid influenza:

Get an annual flu shot. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends an annual flu shot for people at high risk for complications from influenza. These include people over 65 and those with chronic cardiovascular or pulmonary disorders. The best time to get a flu shot in the United States is in the fall, between September and mid-November.

Get a prescription for antiviral drugs. Two prescription drugs, amantadine and rimantadine, have been proven effective against the Influenza Type A virus. Doctors generally prescribe these for those who risk serious complications from the flu virus. The drugs are not effective against the Influenza types B and C virus. For more information on these drugs, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet on Antiviral Drugs for Influenza Type A.

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