“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
With that simple quote, famed British poet Edith Sitwell captures my exact feelings on winter. What she failed to mention in her wonderful writings is that winter also brings with it colds, running noses, and the risk of influenza.
Since influenza is such a common virus that gets passed around during these winter months, we sometimes have a tendency to downplay it's affects on our lives. Most healthy adults are little more than inconvenienced by this "bogeyman of the winter" and end up missing a day or two of work, feeling bad, and catching up on some much need sleep. Those of us with ostomies or other pre-existing conditions are at a much higher risk of serious complications and have a few more concerns to deal with it when it comes to influenza.
As most of us know already, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that spread from one infected person to another usually by the nose or throat such as sneezing or coughing. People who are contagious are often able to spread the influenza virus up to six feet away. While it is generally accepted that the flu viruses are spread primarily by droplets when people sneeze, cough, or even talk. They are also spread by touching surfaces infected with the influenza viruses then touching your own mouth, nose, or ingested food or drinks contaminated with the viruses.
Most adults are contagious typically a day before symptoms begin to develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may be contagious even longer than seven days. Since symptoms generally start within one to four days after exposure, it is possible to pass the virus on to others before you know or even feel that you are sick yourself.
The single best way to lessen the risk of contracting this seasonal influenza virus is to get vaccinated every year with a flu shot. A flue shot is simply an inactivated vaccine containing killed virus that is given in the arm. It contains three seasonal viruses that researchers and experts from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other institutions have chosen after much research and have agreed will be most common during the upcoming season.
Closely following the flu shot for prevention of contracting the flu viruses every year is to be sure to wash your hands and face often with soap and water. If soap and water are not immediately available, use a good alcohol based gel hand sanitizer or carry hand sanitizing wipes with you to clean your hands regularly. Clothing, linens, towels, eating utensils and dishes used by those who are contagious should not be shared without a thorough cleaning as well.