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Ask A Doctor: Why Are We Sick?

2007_02_14Sickness.jpg
It seems to us that everybody we know has been under the weather lately. So we called Dr. Herveen Sachdeva, Associate Medical Officer of Health for Toronto Public Health to find out what diseases are out there and how we can avoid them.
Q. Is it just us, or has cold and flu season, just like the freakishly cold weather, arrived late this year?
A. The cold weather has more of an effect on people’s change in behaviour than in the viruses. During periods of cold weather, people spend more time indoors and in closer contact with others and this increases the ability for viruses to be transmitted more easily from one person to another.
Q. Have there been an increase in cold and flu cases over the last two weeks?
A. Influenza reports are made to Toronto Public Health from a variety of sources including doctor’s offices, hospitals, long-term care homes, and laboratories. We have seen an increase in these reports in the past few weeks. Some other viruses, such as those that cause the common cold, are not reportable to public health but this would certainly be the season for many of these viruses.
Q. Does everybody really have stomach flu or are there other bugs going around?
A. Some of the viruses (other than influenza) circulating at this time include: respiratory syncytial virus [which is often indistinguishable from common colds or minor illnesses], parainfluenza [upper and lower respiratory infections], and adenoviruses [which can lead to respiratory diseases and conjunctivitis]. There are a lot of other viruses, like the ones that cause the common cold, also circulating, but doctors do not routinely test for these.
When people say they have the stomach flu, they usually have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. This type of infection is also known as gastroenteritis. A common group of viruses that causes this infection in adults is called noroviruses [Norwalk, for example] and they are also circulating at this time of year. We have certainly seen a lot of activity with noroviruses this season.
2007_02_14hand_wash.jpg Q. What should Torontonians do to avoid getting sick?
A. One of the most important ways to reduce the risk of getting sick is frequent hand-washing or using a alcohol based hand sanitizer to reduce the amount of viruses that we pick up on our hands. You can help others by sneezing and coughing into a tissue or do the sleeve sneeze when you don’t have tissue.
It’s important to keep your immunizations up-to-date—for many viruses that cause cold-like symptoms, with the exception of influenza, we don’t have vaccines yet.
Q. Is it too late to get a flu shot?
A. It’s recommended to get the flu shot in October to mid November, before each flu season starts. However, flu season normally runs into March, so people may still benefit from getting it. It takes about two weeks from the time of the shot to be protected.
Q. Should you stay home if you are sick to prevent spreading disease?
A. Yes, I would definitely recommend staying home when sick. This is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of spread to co-workers as well as giving your body an opportunity to recuperate from an infection.
So there you have it. If you’re feeling sniffly, call work and tell them that you will not be coming in. It’s your civic duty. And if you are going to fake it, call in sick with norovirus, not stomach flu—it just sounds more legitimate. But remember, it only lasts for three days and if you’re off for a week and come back witth a tan, your boss will get suspicious.
Illustration courtesy Health Canada.

Comments

  • Kate

    I think this post is great – Thanks Rhonda

  • TK

    Good tips, especially the last one! However, personally I was much worse (sick 3 times!) in November/December. Been fine since then…