Flu, cold season descends on US

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As the cold and flu season rapidly descends upon the United States from the Far East and Alaska, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) says it is important to take precautions and understand the difference in the two sicknesses to receive proper treatment.

"The flu is sometimes misinterpreted by the public," said Marilyn Bouldin, public health nurse with the VNA. "It is predicted to be a worse flu season this year."

The flu, influenza, is an airborne virus, spread from one person to another from coughing and sneezing. The flu virus lives and multiplies primarily in the lungs.

Influenza season runs from November to April each year, with the majority of cases seen between January and March. So far this season, cases have been reported in Denver, but it is hard to determine if someone has the flu because a diagnosis requires a viral blood draw.

Catching symptoms of the flu early allows medical professionals to better treat the virus. Oral medications along with antibodies, plenty of fluids, rest and proper food are common recommendations for recovery.

Much research is done to determine the severity of a particular flu season. According to Bouldin, research begins in China when professionals determine what specific influenza strands will be prevalent in the United States.

According to Dr. Steven Mostow, associate dean and professor at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, a good indication of the flu season in the lower states is how the virus has spread in Alaska.

"When it is bad in Alaska, it's predictive of how it will be in the lower 48," Mostow said. A major reason for the outbreaks in Alaska is because of cruise ships. The virus boards the ships with passengers, spreads, and vacationers bring the flu back to their homelands.

This year, three types of flu strands were reported to be in the United States and the VNA administered shots against these strands.

The VNA has given more than 5,000 shots against the virus in Routt and Moffat counties. More than 2,500 shots were given in Craig.

Of those receiving the flu shots, 70 percent will not catch the virus and the 30 percent who do will have less severe symptoms. Each year, 60 percent of Caucasians, 30 percent of African-Americans and 20 percent Hispanics are given the shot. The shot is 99 percent effective in preventing death, 90 percent effective in stopping a visit to the doctor and 80 percent effective in preventing a day of lost work.

Influenza is the sixth-leading cause of death among all people and the fourth-leading cause of death in the elderly. Twelve billion dollars is spent on treating influenza each year. This is in comparison to $2 billion spent for AIDS treatment.

Influenza is most deadly to people with chronic diseases, diabetes and heart disease and those over 65 because their immune systems are not as powerful.

Bouldin offered advice on combating the virus.

"The single most effective thing to do is to wash your hands a lot," Bouldin said.

She also recommends washing equipment often used by different people. Other hints get enough rest, eat properly, monitor stress levels and basically, "Live a healthy lifestyle," said Bouldin.

The other nemesis this season is the cold. The cold merely troubles victims with a cough and stuffy nose. The flu, on the other hand, claims persons with fatigue, fever (between 100 and 104 degrees), muscle aches, joint pain, loss of appetite, headache and a cough.

Diarrhea and vomiting are not symptoms of either the cold or flu. An upset stomach combined with the two ailments is considered the "stomach flu," and is often mistakenly referred to as the "flu."

"With a cold, you can go to work. With the flu, you can't get out of bed," Bouldin said.

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