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Myths and facts about the common cold and flu

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December 26, 2017 Updated: December 26, 2017 at 10:40 am
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photo - Kaiser Backdrops raw Skiline MOB
Kaiser Backdrops raw Skiline MOB 

’Tis the season of colds and the flu. Whether you’ve been battling a fever through the holidays or you’re flying into 2018 without a sniffle in sight, it’s important to understand the myths and facts that revolve around the common cold and flu. Kaiser Permanente’s Benjamin J. Erickson, MD, an internal medicine practitioner, provided timely insight on these viral infections that affect more than three million Americans per year.

Myth: Cold weather causes the common cold. 

Fact: You go outside in the frigid weather, come inside and it seems instantly you have a runny nose and cough. Though it’s called a “cold,” the weather has nothing to do with it. In fact, some studies found cells that fight infection actually increase when you’re out in the cold. It is only coming in contact with germs that can make you sick — rhinoviruses in the case of the common cold; and influenza A and B in the case of the flu. This contact typically happens indoors, not outdoors — especially with all the closed windows, forced heat and people gathered together. “The flu and viruses do tend to circulate around November to early spring, but we don’t really know the reason,” said Erickson. “In the southern hemisphere flu circulates during our summer months, which is their winter; and in tropical areas flu may be prevalent year-round.”

Myth: No one will catch my cold at our holiday party. 

Fact: Though you may think a little hand sanitizer and two feet of distance will safe guard your family and friends against your flu or severe cold, it might not be the case. “The best thing to do is to rest and not be around other people,” said Erickson. “When you’re acutely ill and still have a fever, you’re shedding that virus with cough and secretions, so there is a high likelihood of spreading it.” Especially with grandparents and young kids around, it’s a good idea to keep your distance as they may be more susceptible to catching the virus. Erickson suggested instead to plan to get together with loved ones another time, or wait a few days until the fever passes and then participate. 

Myth: All colds are created equal. 

Fact: For a healthy person, this statement might be true. Colds typically only last a couple days to a week and can pass on their own with some home treatment. Home treatment can include resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking Tylenol, Motrin, decongestants or cough medicine for symptoms. However, colds and especially the flu can be more severe in seniors, children and those with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, HIV and chronic respiratory conditions. In these instances where immunity is compromised, further medical attention and anti-viral medications may be necessary. Also, those with the flu or a cold may become more susceptible to pneumonia. “Pneumonia is often a secondary infection to the flu,” said Erickson. “The flu knocks immunity down, and bacteria may take the opportunity to take over and cause pneumonia or sinus infections.” If you feel concerned about your symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Myth: Multivitamins are all you need to fight off colds. 

Fact: “There’s not a lot of scientific data to support taking vitamins as a clear preventative measure, but reasonable amounts are not going to hurt,” said Erickson. He explained that general health is always helpful in keeping immunity boosted. This can include taking vitamins and supplements, washing hands frequently, exercising, eating healthfully and emphasizing overall wellbeing. He suggested — even for those who are healthy — to make sure to get a flu shot early in the season for better prevention for yourself and others. 

Myth: Getting the flu shot will give me the flu.

Fact: Many have differing opinions of flu shots, and a variety of reasons why they do or do not get them. “I hear a lot of reasons why patients don’t want to get a flu shot, one being ‘every time I get the flu vaccine, I get the flu’,’” said Erickson. “You cannot get the flu from a flu vaccine, although you can have some side effects — the most common ones are feeling under the weather or fatigued.” Another reason, he shared, that people don’t get the shot is because they “never get sick.” But even if an individual’s immune system is effective at warding off the flu, it doesn’t mean that they can’t spread it to others. “The more people who get the flu vaccine, the more effective it is for everyone,” he said.

Erickson is passionate about the wellness of others, and urges all to take measures to help prevent the cold and flu this holiday season. “I love that being a doctor allows me to combine science and helping people in order to benefit society,” said Erickson. “With internal medicine, there is a good breadth of variability in terms of the issues that people come in with, so it keeps each day interesting and allows me to be a lifelong learner.”

Erickson shared that one of the reasons he loves working with Kaiser Permanente is that they are a streamlined, one-stop shop for patients. Instead of spending valuable time running all over the city, patients can enjoy the ease of having their doctors, labs, x-rays and pharmacy all under one roof. In turn, each doctor has excellent electronic records that encompass every aspect of a patient’s health and care.

Benjamin J. Erickson, MD is currently accepting new patients. 

Benjamin J. Erickson, MD, is an internal medicine practitioner located at 215 S. Parkside Dr., Colorado Springs and with the state’s largest physician group—the Colorado Permanente Medical Group—which serves the 680,000 members of Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.  To learn more about how Kaiser Permanente can help your family thrive, visit kp.org or call 1-888-681-7878.

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