Winter 2004 Prescription for Health: Stay Home If You Feel Sick

If you're sitting on the fence, trying to figure out whether you feel too cruddy to go to work or school, or should tough it out, a Saint Louis University family doctor has some advice for you: Stay home.


"Staying home if you're sick decreases the spread of illness and helps people get better faster," says Mark Mengel, MD, MPH, chair of the department of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "Particularly with the shortage of the flu vaccine, we want to do everything we can to stop the spread of sickness this winter."


A sore throat, stuffy nose, cough, and sneezing can be symptoms of both a cold and the flu. However if you have the flu, you feel a lot worse and are likely to have other symptoms, such as a high fever that lasts three to four days, a headache, muscle aches, exhaustion, and weakness, Mengel says.


"We can actively treat the flu with antiviral medications that decrease the severity and duration of the illness," Mengel says. "Patients who take the medication typically get well a day sooner and their symptoms are about half as severe as those who don't get prescriptions."


Physicians can test for influenza with a rapid sensitive flu test, which is similar to a quick throat swab to test for strep throat. "In five to 10 minutes, they'll get an answer and if they have the flu, they can begin to take medicine to help them feel better."


Mengel says he's preparing to see an increase in sick patients this winter. "Particularly this year, it's going to be a big flu year. I'm getting my prescription pad ready and washing my hands a lot."


To minimize the chance you'll get sick this year, though, Mengel suggests these proven strategies for staying healthy:


·Every time you shake hands, make a mental note to wash yours. And wash frequently other times, too. Running lots of water over your hands thoroughly dilutes the virus and sends it down the drain.


·Try not to touch your nose and eyes. These are places where cold germs to enter your body.


·Get enough sleep -- eight to 10 hours a night. You can't fight colds and other bugs as well if you become fatigued because you aren't spending enough time in the sack to recharge your battery.


·If you smoke, stop. Smoking destroys the cilia -- little hair-like fibers inside our noses and lung tube cells -- that keep mucus from clogging the lining of the nose and lungs.


·Don't eat after double dippers at holiday buffets. The person who nabs a second and third dollop of ranch dressing on the same carrot stick may be passing the virus to those who eat after him.


Source: Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center