Winter brings more than just cold air and shorter days; there are several illnesses that peak during the snowier months between November and March. It’s an annual ritual: we rev up for flu season in October and prepare for our children’s sick days when there’s snow on the ground.
It’s not that viruses and bacteria are hibernating during the spring and summer, but rather that our routines change when we’re inside more often, making it easier for our germy enemies to hit us with the sniffles.
Sharon Hendricks, Nurse Practitioner Hospitalist at Prowers Medical Center, said some viruses and bacteria simply grow better in cold, dry climates. By forgoing outdoor activities more than during summer months, people are more frequently congregated together in the winter, allowing viruses to easily pass from one person to the next — especially children who are back in school after their Thanksgiving and Holiday breaks.
Fortunately, being prepared is the best way to combat these pesky colds, flus and other conditions that arise as temperatures fall. By knowing what to watch out for and taking actions to minimize your risk of contraction, it’s possible to stay happy and healthy all year long, no matter what the weather looks like outside.
Common Illnesses That Peak in Winter
The most common illnesses people experience in the winter are the common cold and the flu, which has us sipping Vitamin C and popping Zinc more frequently than any other time of year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average adult has about two to three colds per year, and children have even more than that. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause a cold, and these varieties spread from person to person either through close personal contact or through the air.
“Bacteria and viruses are introduced to the body through the mucus membrane, which are found in opened areas such as the eyes, ears and nose,” Hendricks explained.
Hendricks said typical winter illnesses prevalent in our community are upper and lower respiratory infections, such as the cold and flu, bronchitis and pneumonia. There are also winter conditions that are more irritating than dangerous, such as dermatitis (dry skin) — again, mostly caused by the drier, colder climates the wintertime brings.
Prevention is the number one strategy individuals should keep in mind when it comes to avoiding the contraction of wintertime illnesses.
Some general tips to keep in mind include:
- Practicing good, regular handwashing
- Staying home from work if you’re sick, or not sending your children to school if they’re sick
- Sneezing and/or coughing into the crease of your elbow instead of into your hands
- Avoiding touching your face and rubbing your eyes
- Getting your flu vaccination each year
Hendricks stressed the importance of an annual vaccine, especially for people in high-risk categories or those who are frequently near people who are in a high-risk category. Examples include newborn babies, individuals over the age of 80, those with compromised immune systems and individuals with asthma or COPD.
“If these patients get infected and fall ill, it’s harder for them to fight these illnesses off,” she said. “We often think about getting vaccinated to keep ourselves healthy, but these vaccines also help in keeping those around us safe from disease.”
When to See a Provider
Common colds and flus are typically short-term illnesses that should go away on their own. According to the CDC, the symptoms of a cold peak within two to three days and can last as long as 10 to 14 days. Uncomplicated flu symptoms resolve usually within three to seven days, though coughs and malaise can continue for more than two weeks. There are situations, though, when you should get your Provider involved.
According to Hendricks, children and adults have similar “danger signs” when determining whether to seek help from a health care professional for their wintertime illness. They include:
- Difficulty breathing or breathing rapidly
- Lips or face have a blue tint
- Chest pain
- A 104-degree fever or higher for children, a running fever of 103 degrees or higher for adults
- Feelings of confusion (can be a sign of sepsis)
- Any symptoms that are not getting better over time
Children and adults in high-risk categories and newborns under 12 weeks old with any fever symptoms should also see a Provider as soon as possible.
“Be prepared,” Hendricks said. “I can’t stress that enough. It is so important for people to do everything they can to stay healthy, such as eating healthy, staying away from people who are sick, washing their hands and getting their vaccinations.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment at Prowers Medical Center Clinic, call (719) 336-6767 or go to prowersmedical.com/services/clinic.