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4 Illnesses That Are Common in the Winter

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Learn about the most common winter illnesses and what you can do to fight them.

As the leaves began to fall off the trees and temperatures drop, illnesses such as the flu peak. Many viruses are more likely to spread in the winter. There are several reasons for this. Dry cold air makes it easier for viruses to get into your nasal passages and some germs, such as influenza, are more stable and stay in the air longer when the air is dry and cold. Plus, more people are indoors in the winter. Being indoors with all the doors and windows shut make it more likely that you will be exposed to germs. Here are some of the most common winter illnesses and ways that you can prevent them.

Flu

Influenza, also called the flu is a respiratory virus that is caused by influenza. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the flu virus is at its peak from November through March in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, the flu is prevalent from May through September.

Symptoms of the flu include body aches, high fever, coughing, sore throat and runny nose. Flu is contagious and spreads from person to person by sneezing and coughing. It may also spread through infected surfaces. Populations most susceptible to serious complications from the flu include the elderly and very young as well as those with impaired immune systems.

The best way to prevent the flu is to make sure that you and everyone in your house is vaccinated against the flu. The flu can be treated with Tamiflu if it is diagnosed within 48 hours. Otherwise, the illness has to run its course.

Asthma

Cold air can trigger asthma symptoms and causes wheezing and shortness of breath. Allergens are often a major contributor to asthma. Being indoors leads to breathing in mold, dust and dander, all of which are asthma triggers. Wind and rain also stir up allergens. Working out in the cold weather can also exacerbate asthma, making it more difficult to breathe. Ways to deal with asthma in the winter include:

  • Understand and avoid your triggers-If you are allergic to dust mites or mold, keep your house cool and dry.
  • Exercise indoors
  • Cover your face when you go outdoors

Norovirus

Noroviruses, also known as the “winter vomiting bug” is notorious for ruining cruise passenger’s vacations and causing entire ships to turn back around for port. Noroviruses strike not only cruise passengers, but those on dry land, as well. It is common on cruise ships due to the fact that they are highly contagious. Noroviruses spread through contaminated food and surfaces. Cruise ships provide the perfect setting for noroviruses due to the large number of people confined to a relatively small area. The symptoms of norovirus include diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. The best way to prevent norovirus is to wash your hands frequently.

Bronchitis

Bronchitis is the irritation and swelling of the air passages of the lungs. This illness most often occurs in winter and is often a complication of another illness, such as the flu or asthma. Frequent coughing is the most common symptom of bronchitis. Although it is usually not a serious illness in healthy individuals, it can lead to pneumonia in certain individuals. If the condition does not go away in two weeks, contact your health care physician. To reduce the risk of bronchitis, wash your hands frequently and get vaccinated for the flu.

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Understanding Foodborne Outbreaks

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A foodborne outbreak occurs when there are two or more cases of confirmed illness after consumption of a specific food product. These outbreaks involve the CDC as well as other public health officials as staff members try to control, manage and prevent these types of occurrences. Many times, investigative work is needed in order to determine the scope of the outbreak, the extent and the original source. Learning from each situation is what helps prevent these outbreaks from occurring again in the future.

Investigation

Once reports are made that a foodborne illness was contracted, public health officials work with regulatory officials to collect a large amount of data. They want to know what the food or product was that caused the illness, what were the symptoms, what was the outcome, what batch was this from and so on. This information will be used long term for better quality control and regulations that are enforced by the U.S. Sometimes a recall will need to be issued in order to prevent more people from getting sick. Often times, a warning is all that is needed.

Some data will point specifically to a foodborne outbreak and this includes:

  • A pattern to the illness. Either all the cases were in a short period of time or from the same germ.
  • A larger number of people are ill within the same area than normal.
  • People who otherwise have no connection to one another are ill but ate at the same restaurant or purchased the same product.
  • Common point of confirmed contamination.
  • A certain germ of pathogen is found at a suspected restaurant or store.

Prevention

Ultimately, United States regulatory agencies want to protect the public and prevent foodborne outbreaks from occurring again. Investigation is important when an outbreak occurs, but ongoing research is also part of successful prevention. While not every case of foodborne outbreak is solved, many times there is at least a suspected source of the problem. This leads to better prevention at food producing facilities but also better prevention and investigation methods on a nationwide level.

Ongoing Reporting And Monitoring

An original complaint or report comes from a local or state level in most instances. From there, public health authorities will investigate the claim and involve the CDC when multiple states have become affected by a certain issue. Reports are compiled that include the number of illnesses that are present, hospitalizations, deaths, symptoms, toxins and chemicals that may have caused the issue.

Common symptoms of a foodborne outbreak typically include symptoms that are similar to food poisoning. Stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, aches, etc. Seeking medical assistance can help reduce the severity and danger of the illness and can also lead to preventing other people from getting sick. It takes many different people to prevent foodborne outbreaks from occurring. It starts with the farms that produce our food and ends with the location selling and manufacturing our food. Proper quality control and agricultural practices are ideal for keeping everyone in the United States safe.

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