by Dr. Joy Chou, ND
Fall is that quintessential time of year when kiddos faithfully head back to the classroom and become exposed to a plethora of germs and viruses. Those pesky pathogens inevitably invade the household, often resulting in torturous hours of fever, cough, body aches and utter physical defeat. Of the potential culprits for this misery, the most likely are cold and flu. Provided the nearly unavoidable curse of back-to-school sickness, its important to learn the difference between these viruses, to understand the basics of illness prevention/treatment, and to identify the proper time to seek medical care.
How to differentiate between cold and flu?
Although both are common respiratory illnesses with similar symptoms, the flu is typically more severe than a cold. The hallmarks of the flu include: abrupt onset, high fever, body aches, fatigue and gastrointestinal symptoms. Think of the flu as the ‘varsity’ team – it hits harder, lasts longer and overall gives its opponent (your immune system) a serious run for its money. The cold virus usually manifests as more gradually appearing illness that is highlighted by sore throat, cough and congestion. Fever and chills are uncommon in adults with the cold, but can be more likely in children. Below is a simple guidance chart perfect for posting on the home fridge:
|Rare in adults – more likely in children
|Common – usually > 100 degrees and lasts 3-4 days
|rare or mild
|common – can last 2-3 weeks
|common – can be severe
|common – mild to hacking
|common – can be severe and lasts for weeks
|vomiting or diarrhea
How long is the contagious period?
The contagious period commences one day before symptoms occur and lasts for seven days after the onset of symptoms.
How is it transmitted?
Viruses are transmitted via respiratory droplets. These respiratory droplets are spread during common contact such as kissing, shaking hands or touching items that have the virus on it prior to touching mucosal surfaces of the face.
Prevention: How to keep the immune system healthy?
The best way to avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics is to keep the immune system strong and healthy.
- Nourishment is a basic component of a healthy immune system. Removing foods that suppress immune function and increasing wholesome clean foods will support the body’s innate defense system. Consider eliminating sugar and dairy, which are immune hindering and mucous producing. Support the immune system by increasing leafy greens, berries, and including high quality proteins and fats with every meal.
- The gut is the ‘root’ of the human plant, where most of the nutrients and vitamins are absorbed. Keeping the gut healthy by populating it with proper amounts of good bacteria can prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria, which negative impacts the immune system. Dosing is as follows: age 1-4 years 3 billion organisms/day, 4+ years 4-8 billion organisms/day, 12+ years 8-15 billion organisms.
- Vitamin D. Sunlight, which becomes scarce in the fall, is major source of this versatile vitamin that is an essential component of immune function and overall health. Dosing is as follows: 400IU for ages 0-1 years, 500-1000IU for ages 1-5 years, 1000IU for ages 5-10 years, and 1000-2000IU for ages 10+ years.
Prevention: How to minimize spread?
Keeping pathogens at bay begins with proper hand washing techniques, maintaining surfaces/toys with anti-microbial cleaning solution (Mix 2 cups water, 1 cup white vinegar and 60 drops of tea tree essential in a spray bottle), and washing fabrics that may be contaminated in 140 degree Fahrenheit water. Remember that flu and cold viruses can survive on hard surfaces for approximately 24 hours.
Remedies to try at home:
Viral illnesses are self resolving, however, the following are some excellent at-home treatments that are effective in decreasing the duration and magnitude of symptoms.
- Vitamin D. For acute illness, quadruple the age-equivalent preventative doses for one week.
- Sambucus or Elderberry is a safe but potent anti-viral that has been effectively used for centuries to treat colds and flus. Use the following doses once daily for general immune support and twice daily to treat acute illness: 250mg for kids age 1-2 years, 500mg for kids age 3-5 years, 1000mg for kids age 6 and above, 2000mg for large kids (aka adults).
- Vitamin C. Research has found this well-known antioxidant to decrease severity and duration of virus symptoms. Dosing is 250-500mg three times per day (decrease if stools become loose).
- This homeopathic remedy has been found to temporarily relieve flu-like symptoms in all ages. Dose one tube under the tongue every six hours up to three times daily.
- Hydration and rest. Adequate hydration hugely impacts how quickly the body flushes toxins and carries nutrients to cells of the body. Aim for 1/2 your body weight in ounces as a general rule of thumb. Rest should be the most obvious of the things to try at home, so set an alarm reminder and head to be one hour before your usual time.
Flu specific treatment:
The flu can lead to more serious complications (high-risk patients include: asthmatics, children under age two, elderly, immune compromised, chronic steroid users, and people with heart or chronic lung disease). Therefore, if you suspect the flu, call your doctor for a rapid in-office test. Once the cause has been identified, physicians can prescribe an FDA approved treatment (ie Tamiflu, Relenza, Rapivab) that can shorten duration of symptoms by 1-2 days, decrease severity of symptoms as well as prevent serious flu complications. It is also a good idea to consider a yearly flu vaccine for patients that fall into the previously mentioned “high-risk” categories.
When to call the doctor:
Call your doctor If you or your child experiences: difficulty breathing, chest pain, severe vomiting, bluish lips or skin, loss of consciousness, high fever with rash, or persistent cough.
If you suspect strep throat, pneumonia or bronchitis, it is a good idea to contact your physician for further workup. Hallmarks of strep throat include: severe sore throat, difficulty/pain with swallowing, swollen lymph nodes/tonsils, red spots on roof of the mouth, sandpaper like rash, white patches or streaks of pus in the oral cavity, in the absence of cough. Suspect pneumonia if cough and fever and combined with shortness of breath or chest paint that is worse with deep breathing.