The children are back in school, the weather is becoming colder, the holidays will soon be here, and along comes cold and flu season.
The main way that illnesses like cold and flu are spread is from person to person in droplets from coughs and sneezes.
Some bacteria can live two hours or longer on school surfaces like cafeteria tables and desks. Doorknobs are another place where bacteria linger.
What distinguishes a cold from the flu?
"A fever is rare with a cold, but characteristic with the flu," Lorainne Dalrymple, director of nursing for Gila County Health, said. "A headache is rare with a cold, but prominent with the flu."
Along with early and extreme exhaustion, fatigue and weakness can last 2 to 3 weeks with the flu, Dalrymple added. A stuffy nose, sneezing and a sore throat are common with a cold. A cold causes mild to moderate chest discomfort. Chest discomfort with the flu is common and can become severe.
"Health habits can reduce your risk for getting a cold or the flu," Dalrymple said. "The flu shot can help prevent you from getting the flu."
While only temporary relief of symptoms is available for a cold, anti-viral medicines can be prescribed by a physician for the flu.
The word flu is short for influenza -- a contagious respiratory illness.
"Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop, and up to five days after becoming sick," Dalrymple said. "That means you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick."
Every year in the United States, 5 to 20 percent of the population contract the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, such as pneumonia, annually. About 36,000 die.
The elderly and young children are at a higher risk for complications, as well as people with asthma, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease.
Vaccinations against the virus going around this year will be available from the Gila County Health department sometime in early November.
Flu shots will be provided at a cost of $25 (most insurance accepted) at the Payson Health and Care Fair from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 5.
According to a Nov. 2004 Centers for Disease Control bulletin, a person who suffered from the flu one year will have some natural immunity to closely related viruses, possibly for the next one to two years.
"It's important to remember that there are different types of influenza viruses circulating and different variants within virus types, and the same type of flu virus does not necessarily circulate each year. For instance, during the 2003-2004 flu season, influenza A (H3N2) viruses predominated; however, infection with an influenza A (H3N2) virus would not provide protection against influenza B or influenza A (H1N1) viruses."
There are two ways influenza viruses change.
Antigenic drift happens when small changes occur in the virus over time. These changes may not be recognized by a person's immune system. It is the reason a person can get the flu more than once in a year and why the CDC recommends yearly immunization.
Antigenic shifts happen only occasionally to influenza A viruses. They are abrupt and major. The change results in a new protein combination of the flu virus.
"If a new subtype of influenza A virus is introduced into the human population, if most people have little or no protection against the new virus, and if the virus can spread easily from person to person, a pandemic (worldwide spread) may occur..." according to the CDC's Web site at www.cdc.gov.
Seven habits to remain healthy
The Gila County Health Department encourages everyone to protect themselves and others, and to stop the spread of germs by practicing these seven healthy habits:
1. Cough or sneeze into a tissue, then throw it away.
2. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds. Alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sensitizers may be used.
3. Remind children to practice healthy habits. Germs spread, especially in schools.
4. Children and adults need to get plenty of sleep and physical activity. Drinking water and eating nutritious food will also help individuals remain healthy in the winter and throughout the year.
5. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
6. When you are sick, stay home and keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick.
7. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
The Gila County Health Department is giving K-12 children in each community a chance to win prizes by sponsoring a poster contest.
Posters should show the importance of healthy habits and receiving the flu vaccine to prevent getting the flu. The posters will be displayed locally in November.
All entries must be the original work of the student. Posters must be on poster board and can range in size from 11-inches-by-17inches to 16-inches-by-20-inches. The child's name, age, grade, community and telephone number must appear legibly on the back of the entry.
Posters must be submitted by Nov. 1, 2005 to the Gila County Office of Health, 107 W. Frontier, Suite A, Payson; Pine Elementary School, Young Public School or Tonto Basin Community School.