How to Stay Healthy This Holiday

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

‘Tis the season to be jolly. And the month to be exposed to too many people who may have an upper respiratory tract infection, or URI, which is a nonspecific term used to describe acute infections involving the nose, paranasal sinuses, pharynx, larynx, trachea, and bronchi. The prototype is the illness known as the common cold. Many in the crowds of people shopping and huddled together on public transportation have runny noses, itchy or runny eyes, sinus stuffiness or pain, ear stuffiness or pain, sore throat or cough and fatigue. But they are out and about because there are gifts to buy, work to do and places to go instead of remaining at home resting. Some of these people will also have early symptoms of the flu and will be spreading that virus as well.

Most URIs occur more frequently in the cold winter months, because of overcrowding. Adults develop an average of two to four colds annually. An upper respiratory syndrome is by far the most common cause of physician visits in the United States. Acute pharyngitis (sore throat) accounts for 1 percent to 2 percent of all visits to outpatient and emergency departments, resulting in 7 million annual visits by adults alone. Acute bacterial sinusitis develops in 0.5 percent to 2 percent of cases of viral URIs. Approximately 20 million cases of acute sinusitis occur annually in the United States. About 12 million cases of acute tracheobronchitis are diagnosed annually, accounting for one third of patients presenting with acute respiratory infections. The estimated economic impact of non–influenza-related upper respiratory infections is $40 billion annually.

Viruses that cause a cold or upper respiratory infection spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, expelling viral-infected droplets several feet. These viruses can also live on any object that comes in contact with an infected person. Objects such as door handles, telephones, towels, and silverware can spread a virus days after being contaminated.

Here are eight simple ways to protect yourself from an unwanted gift of a seasonal cold or worse.

  1. Get the influenza vaccine now if you have not done so.  December is traditionally the time for influenza outbreaks to increase. The good news this year, according to the CDC, is that since Oct. 1, the majority of the tested influenza viruses remain similar to the recommended components of the 2016-2017 Northern Hemisphere vaccines. This means that the influenza vaccine developed for use this year should protect against the flu.
  2. Do not touch your nose, mouth or eyes after handling an object contaminated by a virus, which will likely infect you. Use a tissue to touch your mouth, nose or eyes instead of your hands. The so called, T-zone, the mouth, nose and eyes, is the only portal of entry into the human body for respiratory infections.
  3. Encourage correct cough and sneezing technique. Use tissues. Studies show that covering your mouth with a tissue and disposing of it correctly is the most effective way to prevent air-borne transmission of droplets with viruses that cause upper respiratory infections. Have tissues with you at all times. Pass out small packages to those around you who appear to need them

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