Thursday, February 3, 2011

Coughing and sneezing, hugs and hand shakes

With the fluctuations in temperature, we once again must face the cold and flu season. There are many questions which arise every year about how we prepare ourselves for the onslaught of this year's strain, whether it be upping vitamin supplements, receiving vaccines or even strengthening our natural immune systems by making a few simple changes in our life styles. No proper discussion about the spread of colds and the flu would be complete without addressing the importance of personal hygiene and respecting one another's space.

There has been a lot written about this topic recently and there are many things which medical professionals and Moms agree on. Let's refer to this as practicing respiratory etiquette. The main way that the flu spreads is from person to person in the droplets produced by coughs and sneezes, so it’s important to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder, not into your hands. Most important of all is wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. If soap and water are not available use a hand sanitizer. Adults and children must follow these good practices.

If you are at a business meeting and you find your self shaking hands with many people, take the time to sanitize or wash your hands. Keep them away from your face, especially your nose, because the influenza virus is passed on most successfully through breathing. The life of a virus is very fragile and must have specific environments in which to survive. The human skin, specifically the nasal passages are ideal. As well, there are many close blood vessels through which the virus can travel with lightening speed throughout the entire body. The sleeve of your jacket and the most other surfaces are not good hosts for virus. They are however havens for many bacteria. For this reason it is important to keep kitchen counters, door knobs and telephones clean. Food borne bacteria are very serious and weaken your natural defenses at the very least. If you have people coming over for dinner, whether they be family or other guests, make every effort to be sure food is not subject to contamination, anything that will allow bacteria to grow. Information on this important precaution is carefully taught as part of the basics of cooking and is readily available on line or from any health care facility.

Pay great attention to using bacterial dish soap when washing everything from your hands, your pots and pans, dishes and counter tops. Pay attention to freshness dates on all food you are using to prepare food at any time. This time of year is a wonderful time for friends and family to come together for a variety of festive occasions. Because air circulation is limited due to closed doors and windows, which would normally be open during warmer weather, diligence in hygiene is really critical. Most of us have experienced food poisoning, stomach flu, and indigestion. None of us want to carelessly be the source of such illness.

The H1N1 virus is not something to sneeze at. This is an unusually virulent virus which is from a different family of viruses than those against which the traditional influenza vaccines are effective. Therefore a new vaccine has been developed. Most doctors recommend that people who are at risk should not fail to receive this vaccine. This is an important decision which should be made with your physician. If you are not in a high risk category, your natural immune system may well be fully capable of defending you against this virus. Your health care professional can supply you with the facts. If you have personal reasons for not wanting the vaccine, and there are lots of legitimate ones, you must take extra precautions to avoid exposure to the virus. More importantly, you must be especially carefully not to put others at risk. This may mean limiting physical contact with other people. If this cannot be avoided, your health care professional's advice will be helpful.

To avoid hugging and shaking hands during the social and business situations where this is normally commonplace, my advice is to be careful but not obsessive. Use your head and employ your common sense. Mind you, fist pumping is not a substitute for a hand shake. Carry hand sanitizer in your purse or pocket. Men need to consider using handkerchiefs and everyone needs to have plenty of tissues with them. The use of handkerchiefs is not a sanitary idea unless they are washed and changed often. In practicing germ spread prevention, use tissues which you dispose of as soon as they are used. Tissues even come lotion infused to stop chafing or irritation.

Some people have chronic coughing and sneezing, especially during illness. If you find yourself in a coughing or sneezing jag, you must excuse yourself an move away from people, preferably going to a washroom until the episode passes. We are all more aware of the dangers of the flu during this season. Let's make changing our relaxed hygienic habits a high priority. This is respect in its most raw form. It is a golden opportunity to make the extra effort to show respect
to loved ones and everyone around you including yourself.