Cold/flu season is here

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 3, 2003

It's the time of year when people need to start getting concerned about the flu season and the myriad of accompanying "bugs, tummy aches, runny noses, fevers and colds."

As the temperature outside begins its annual fluctuation from hot one day to cold the next, doctors offices, emergency rooms and public health officials find their offices flooded with people presenting symptoms of one or several of the fall-weather foes.

To help combat any public concern about any of the illnesses that accompany the changing seasons, Andalusia Regional Hospital, along with Dr. Charles Eldridge and Area 9 of the Alabama Department of Public Health want people to be ready and know what symptoms to look for.

To help combat the flu, all three organizations recommend people get a flu shot.

"Now is the time to get your flu shot," said Dr. Eldridge, a pediatrician in Andalusia. "The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all children age 6-months to 2-years receive the shot. They also recommend people in the 'high risk' categories or with a young infant also receive the shot."

For those with "needle-phobia," Eldridge said there is an alternative.

"We have the nasal inhalant this year for those who don't like needles," he said. "It's an alternative to the traditional flu shot, but it does cost more."

In addition to the flu, a typically non-lethal form of meningitis can also be found this time of year.

Viral meningitis, a relatively mild form of the meningitis infection, is often diagnosed this time of year.

The symptoms, which often present similar to the symptoms of a cold, typically last for a few days before clearing up.

"Most people who get viral meningitis, they may never know they have it or had it," Eldridge said. "It's really nothing to be overly concerned about. The symptoms typically include severe headaches, lethargy, and stiff neck.

"A person with meningitis - it's unlikely another person could catch it from them, but someone might get an upset stomach, a mild fever or diarrhea for a few days," Eldridge added.

Just the mention of the word meningitis gets some people on edge, but that shouldn't be the case, said Teresa Porter with Area 9 of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

"There are always counties that report cases of viral meningitis, but it's typically not something to worry about," she said. "It usually goes away in a few days. If there were a case of bacterial meningitis, that would be cause for concern, but there have been no cases of bacterial meningitis in Covington County - or Area 9 - since January."

If people are concerned about the differences in meningitis, Candie Northey, BSN, WOCN; the director of infection control and employee health at Andalusia Regional Hospital says there are some great reference materials available for people to read.

"The Centers for Disease Control website has some great information on all infectious diseases and explains them in an easy to understand format," Northey said. "There's information on everything on those websites. The flu, meningitis, colds, West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis - everything.

"The main thing is for people not to panic when they develop symptoms for any type of potential virus or illness," Northey continued. "Schedule an appointment with your doctor and let him do the diagnosing."

And though it is impossible to completely eliminate these viruses at present, there are several good ways to help prevent a person from contracting a cold, the flu or another illness.

"Wash you hands, wash you hands, wash your hands," Porter said. "One of the best ways to prevent any sort of illness that can be transmitted from one person to another is to have good hygiene. Also, make sure all your vaccines are current and get your flu shot."

That sentiment was echoed by Eldridge.

"Hygiene is absolutely the key to preventing the flu or catching a cold," he said. "Washing your hands, avoiding others who are sick, getting a flu shot - they all help. Good nutrition is also key to helping prevent the cold and flu. The stronger and healthier you are, the more likely you are to be able to fight off an infection. Also, a person who gets plenty of rest stands a better chance."

Northey also emphasized the good hygiene.

"Always wash your hands, don't drink after other people and try to avoid large crowds," she said. "Is easier to prevent than a lot of people think."