Stay Healthy In the Polar Vortex of WI Winter! By, Dr. Julie Schurr

I’ve not met one person lately who is still singing the praises of winter in Wisconsin. We’re all sick of it, literally. Yes, snow can be beautiful, the moon is bright and the air crisp, but between outbreaks of Influenza and Norovirus, and just plain rotten upper respiratory infections, we must navigate the next few weeks armed with everything we can to stay healthy. A few protective and preventative tips to follow but first what are we up against?

Influenza– a highly contagious virus that causes respiratory (not gastrointestinal) illness. Its onset comes on fairly rapidly with high fever, muscle aches, sore throat and nasal congestion and extreme fatigue. Tamiflu is a safe medication that if taken within 48 hours of developing symptoms works to lessen their severity and shorten flu’s duration. The highest risk populations for serious complications include pregnant women and the elderly. If you feel you are developing or possibly exposed to Influenza, please contact our office before coming in. We make a big effort to avoid exposing our pregnant patients and may either empirically prescribe Tamiflu for you or request you be seen in Urgent Care to avoid inadvertent exposure to numerous pregnant patients.

Norovirus– a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea and stomach pain and sometimes fever and body aches. The CDC notes that if you think you have the “stomach flu”, it’s probably Norovirus. Symptoms develop within 12-48 hours of exposure and usually run its course in 1-3 days. Therapy’s focus is on fluid replacement as the primary risk is dehydration. Norovirus is easily transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth or eating contaminated food/drink. The virus is not killed using hand sanitizers, alcohol, Lysol or even disinfecting wipes. Frequent, vigorous hand washing for > 30 seconds each time, bleach and hydrogen peroxide are the only known cleansers shown to kill Norovirus. If you contract Norovirus, you should remain “quarantined” and avoid contact with any one for at least three days after your recovery. Recent outbreaks in hospitals and medical clinics around town have been reported. We are doing our part to protect our patients. Contact our office to speak with your provider if you think you may have contracted Norovirus.

Tips to Stay Healthy:

1. Cleanliness is next to Godliness: Proper hand washing with good old soap and water is a must. At work or in a busy household we touch commonly shared surfaces (think door knobs, refrigerator handles, computer keyboards, remote controls). We also touch our face an average of 15 times per hour. And although the latter fact seems odd, it’s true. Just try not to touch your face for an hour- it’s hard! We do it without thinking! The majority of winter bugs that cause serious illness are transmitted through our noses or mouths and touching your face just places them that much closer to an entry point into your body. Anti-bacterial gels are better than nothing (except if Norovirus) or when soap and water aren’t available. It’s also important to regularly clean and disinfect those common surfaces to lessen the chances of inoculating yourself.

2. Hydration, hydration, hydration! Winter air is dry. It makes for fly-away hair, static shock and is notorious for drying out skin and mucous membranes in your nose, mouth and throat. Dryness causes microscopic breaks in your tissues giving bad viruses and bacteria an even easier and more rapid entrance into your system. Aim to drink at least 80 fluid ounces of water daily to help stay hydrated and flush toxins from your system. Check the humidifier at the house or at work to keep enough moisture in the air and use a small humidifier in your bedroom at night if need be.

3. Get some Zzzzs. Your body needs ample sleep to protect itself from infection. Being sleep-deprived makes you more susceptible to viral infections and slows your recovery. Aim for a consistent 7-8 hours per night on average.

4. Call for back up. Whether hefty doses of vitamin C, zinc or Echinacea help prevent infection is uncertain. Vitamin C, B6 and E are regularly touted as vitamins that assist in the support of your immune system. In addition to ample hydration, proper nutrition high in these vitamins and others assists your body’s ability to defend itself. Honey is a natural antibacterial and soothing to a sore throat. Garlic and onions (think homemade chicken noodle soup) contain potent antioxidants to speed recovery. Fermented foods like kombucha, yogurt and raw apple cider provide probiotics to help restore normal gut function. Herbal teas rich in chamomile and peppermint and antioxidant rich green tea help to soothe inflammation and assist in cell repair.

5. Get Moving! Exercise does a body good on so many levels. Strive to exercise daily as a healthy way to boost your immunity, your cardiovascular and pulmonary reserve and overall strength and endurance; something that a serious infection like Influenza or Norovirus will put to the test.

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