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NEW YORK -- This year's cough, cold and flu season could be the worst in four years, with more than 250 million Americans expected to suffer from upper respiratory ailments, according to medical experts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that millions of people in the United States -- about 10 percent to 20 percent of U.S. residents -- may be diagnosed with influenza this year. The organization adds that each year, an average of about 114,000 Americans have to be admitted to the hospital as a result of influenza.
According to the CDC, "Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems from influenza can happen at any age. People age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children are more likely to experience complications from influenza."
Healthcare authorities say that while many Americans wait for symptoms to appear before taking action, there are proactive steps they can follow to help keep sickness at bay. According to Linda Hotz of Kaz, Inc., which markets home healthcare products under the Vicks brand, "Running a humidifier during the winter months simply makes good common sense. The respiratory system is designed to resist bacteria and viruses, but it only works properly when adequately moisturized. If indoor air is dry, the body is more likely to catch airborne diseases, such as the common cold and influenza. This not only weakens your body's natural defenses, but can also cause uncomfortably dry noses, throats, eyes and skin."
Gerald Kress, CEO of Surveillance Data Inc. (SDI), a global research firm that tracks flu, cold and respiratory illness activity, says, "We anticipate seeing a higher number of people with cold and flu-like symptoms this season -- and on top of that, the symptoms could be more severe than last season." Kress points to SDI's latest FAN numbers, which monitor weekly illness activity. "The most recent figures released (Oct. 17, 2003) are already higher than they were last year for the same time period, and that trend is expected to continue through the first quarter of 2004," he explains.
Since the last three cold and influenza cycles have been relatively mild, health experts are concerned that consumers may ignore the early warning signs of influenza, dismissing them as a bad cold. To arm yourself with the best defense, try the following:
* Keep a humidifier running in your home -- especially during the winter,
when indoor air is dryer than usual. Using a humidifier makes sense no
matter what your respiratory symptoms are, even if you just want to
decrease your susceptibility to infection and stay healthy.
* Keep a thermometer on hand. When children have a runny nose, take their
temperature to see if they have fever. High fevers in the 102-104 degree
range are characteristic of a flu. On the other hand, a fever rarely
accompanies the common cold.
* Keep clean hands. Parents must encourage children to wash their hands
frequently and also cover their mouths when they sneeze to avoid
spreading germs. Children are two to three times more likely than adults
to get sick with colds and flu-like symptoms.
* The CDC recommends an annual flu shot, especially if you are in a
high-risk group. Vaccines are available at your doctor's offices, local
clinics, and in many communities at workplaces, supermarkets, and
Source: Kaz, Inc.