Preparing for Flu Season

Flu season is approaching, and that means many Canadians will find themselves coughing, sneezing, and dealing with other unpleasant symptoms. But are those symptoms due to a cold, influenza (“the flu”), or COVID-19, the newest respiratory virus to challenge our health? Here’s a guide to what you need to know about these illnesses.

Colds

Everyone gets a cold occasionally. A cold usually lasts a week or two, and the symptoms generally develop slowly over a couple of days. The symptoms include sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat, minor aches, and mild to moderate chest discomfort and cough. Colds don’t usually lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia, but occasionally complications can develop, including infections in the throat, ears, or sinuses. There are a number of steps you can take to reduce your risk of catching a cold:
• Wash your hands often.
• Keep your hands away from your face and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to prevent transferring the virus into your body.
• As much as possible, stay away from people who appear to be sick.
• Keep your immune system strong by eating a healthy diet and being physically active.
• Do not smoke. Smoking makes it more likely that you will catch a cold, and it makes the cold harder to get rid of.

There is no cure for a cold. Antibiotics will not help, because they fight bacteria but have no effect on viruses, and colds are caused by viruses. What you can do for relief is to treat the symptoms.

Here are some helpful tips:

• Drink plenty of fluids to help soothe a sore throat and thin the mucus in your nose and lungs. Hot fluids such as tea and broth can be especially helpful in relieving a stuffy nose.
• Take hot showers and use a humidifier in your bedroom to relieve a stuffy nose.
Saline drops may help drain thick or dried mucus.
• A dab of petroleum jelly can ease the discomfort of a red, raw nose.

If you decide to try cough and cold medicines, there are some things you need to know. These medications should not be given to children under six years of age. They won’t work on young children, and they may be harmful. For children age six and over, follow the instructions on the package carefully. Make sure you understand what the proper dose is and how often the dosing can be repeated. Whether these drugs are given to a child or an adult, if more than one is used, make sure they don’t contain any of the same ingredients, because you could risk getting an overdose of some ingredients by combining the recommended doses of several products.

Flu

Unlike colds, flu symptoms develop suddenly. In addition to cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle or body aches, common flu symptoms include fever, chills, headache, and fatigue. The flu is more serious than a cold, and it can lead to pneumonia and worsening of some existing conditions such as asthma. And even though the flu is caused by a virus, it can lead to bacterial infections. The best way to avoid catching the flu is to get vaccinated—either by getting a flu shot or by getting the nasal spray vaccine. In general, the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone age six months and older; however, there are some people who should not receive the vaccine. Your healthcare provider is in the best position to advise you on the vaccine and whether the shot or the nasal spray would be best for you. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year, depending on how closely the vaccine matches the particular flu virus that is circulating each year. Even if you do catch the flu after being vaccinated, it is likely that your symptoms will be milder and that your flu won’t last as long.

One thing that is important to understand is that the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. The same good health habits that will help keep you from catching a cold will also help prevent the flu. People who are at high risk of flu complications should check with their doctor as soon as they think they may be experiencing flu symptoms. People in this category include young children, adults age 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with certain chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.
If you do get the flu, antiviral drugs may provide a helpful treatment. Antiviral medications can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by a day or two. They can also help prevent serious complications.

COVID-19

COVID-19 is adding another dimension to this year’s flu season. This is a new virus, and there is still much we don’t know about it. What we do know is that the symptoms vary from person to person, and some people who are infected with the virus experience no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur, they may include any of the following:
• Abdominal pain
• Chills
• Cough
• Diarrhea
• Fatigue or weakness
• Feeling feverish
• Feeling very unwell
• Headache
• Loss of the sense of smell or taste
• Muscle or body aches
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
• Temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
• Vomiting

It may take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear after exposure to the virus, and the virus can be spread even by people who have no symptoms.

The most common ways the virus spreads are through:
• Inhaling the virus in respiratory droplets spread by a cough or sneeze
• Touching something that the droplets have landed on and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands
• Personal contact, such as by hugging someone or shaking hands

You can reduce your chances of catching the virus by taking some basic precautions:
• Avoid crowded places, especially indoor areas with poor ventilation
• Avoid non-essential trips out of your home
• Do not gather in groups
• Stay at least 2 metres away from other people
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
• Wear a mask or face covering when out in public

If you become ill and think you may have COVID-19, isolate yourself at home for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus to others. If you live with other people, stay at least 2 metres apart at all times. Contact your healthcare provider for advice on how to relieve the symptoms. You can access your province’s self-assessment tool at https://ca.thrive.health/covid19/en.

 

Flu Prevention Tips

With an increased and new flu viruses reported this year, pharmacists are advising patients to take preventative measures to avoid getting sick.


All London Drugs pharmacies are still offering this year’s flu vaccine but in addition to getting a flu shot, Pharmacists offer the following advice to help you reduce your chances of getting sick.

Wash your hands:

Frequent handwashing is first and foremost in cold and flu prevention. The viruses that cause winter ills can be picked up everywhere and washing your hands goes a long way. It is especially important before eating or touching your face, after coughing or sneezing, when caring for the sick, before, during & after you prepare food, after toilet use and after handling animals or animal waste. Proper handwashing is more than just running water over your hands in the sink. To ensure they are thoroughly rid of harmful germs:

  • Wash with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Wash the front of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails
  • Don’t forget your wrists! Remove any jewelry or watches if necessary
  • Use a paper towel to dry your hands as well as to turn off the tap so you don’t re-contaminate your hands
  • If using a public bathroom, use that same paper towel to open the door when exiting
  • If no soap and water readily available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer

Keep your hands away from your face:

Touching your face when your hands have picked up a virus will put that virus in touch with the mucous membranes of your mouth, nose or eyes—a surefire way to become sick fast.

Avoid handshakes:

Although sometimes unavoidable, shaking hands and then rubbing your nose or eyes, handling a glass, or eating finger-food is an effective way to catch something. If etiquette demands you greet someone this way, excuse yourself at the earliest opportunity to wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer.

Avoid sharing common household items:

Items such as cups, utensils, towels, bedding, dishes or other items with other people increase the risk of catching or spreading a cold or virus.

Beware of keypads:

They are everywhere— at the ATM, a restaurant, the elevator, and virtually every retail establishment. Public computers found in schools and libraries are also a hazard during cold and flu outbreaks. Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection that is transmitted by airborne droplets that can survive up to 48 hours outside the body on other surfaces. So, once again, sanitize your hands as frequently as possible and avoid touching your face after using a public keypad.

Use paper towel:

Viruses can remain alive for several hours on fabric so when someone in your home or office is sick, replace hand towels with disposable paper towel. If you don’t like the idea of paper towels, make sure everyone has, and uses, their own cloth towel. When using public washrooms, use a paper towel to cover the door handle when you exit.

Common symptoms of the flu include:

A sudden, high fever (38 to 40 degrees C); headache, extreme fatigue, difficulty breathing, chills and sweating; dry cough; loss of appetite; muscle aches and pains; runny and stuffy nose, sneezing and sore throat.

Here is some advice for anyone already experiencing these symptoms:

Talk to your Pharmacist to get the right medication: Pharmacists are available to provide advice about over-the-counter medications to manage symptoms. They can recommend the best medications for each person in the family to suite their individual symptoms. Other medicine cabinet essentials, including zinc lozenges and vitamin C tablets should be on-hand as well. Zinc lozenges will not only soothe the throat but combat viruses like the flu, and vitamin C taken daily will also help to decrease the duration and severity of a cold once it hits. A thermometer should be at home too, to monitor fevers.

Heed sneeze etiquette: To prevent others from becoming infected. If you need to sneeze in a public place, and you don’t have a tissue to sneeze into, turn your head into your elbow. This will ensure virus-laden water droplets won’t spread far and wide.

Avoid contact with others: If you start feeling sick or feverish, it’s best to stay home until you feel well enough to resume your daily routine. This ensures that you don’t get others around you sick, thus preventing the spread of your cold or flu.

Relax and sleep: Stress suppresses the immune system and makes you more likely to catch whatever is going around. So try to relax and take some peaceful time for yourself. Since the immune system repairs itself during sleep, be sure to get extra shut-eye during cold and flu season.

Stay Home. Rest and relaxation help you recover faster. When displaying symptoms of a virus, stay home and rest. This will not only help speed up your recovery, it also will protect those around you from exposure to the virus.

Eat well: Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain phytonutrients that help you fight viruses by building up your immune response. Proteins too are needed to galvanize the immune system, so make sure you consume low-fat healthy protein with every meal. Drink plenty of fluids and take vitamin C supplements.

The Coronavirus

News headlines are filled with stories relating to the coronavirus. This new virus has started to spread including here to Canada, and many people have questions. While the above does serve as a good guide for general flu like symptoms, if you have recently been to, or have been in contact, with anyone visiting China, you should be extra cautious if displaying the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pneumonia in both lungs

If you exhibit any of the above, please remember the following:

  • Stay home except to get medical care. Call ahead before visiting your doctor
  • Stay in a different room from other people in your home and use a separate bathroom
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue OR cough or sneeze into your sleeve.  Throw away used tissues immediately in a trash bin.  Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

You can find more detailed patient information on the coronavirus at London Drugs pharmacies. Remember the best offence is a good defense. To stay healthy is to eat well, take your vitamins, and get a good night’s sleep, while practicing the hygiene tips above. Check out everything you’ll need for cold and flu prevention here. Together we can greatly reduce the risk of spreading viruses.