AAACHOO!! Cold and flu season is here!

Dr. Mark Whiteside, Medical Director at the Department of Health in Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about respiratory illnesses.

This is cold and flu season.

Dr. Whiteside said, “This is basically mid winter for us and of course now we have the three important respiratory viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, RSV, that’s mainly infants and toddlers. That’s pretty much peaked. That’s late fall. That’s kind of around, but it’s kind of going away. But then there’s influenza, which has been active in Florida, and high rates in the southeast and is still ongoing. And then of course, we have COVID which has not gone away. It’s hard to imagine that we’re going into our fifth year of COVID. Fortunately, we don’t see much severe disease due to COVID, but it and influenza can occasionally still cause severe disease. There’s still some sporadic cases of long COVID that we see. I will say that over the holiday season here over Christmas and New Year’s, we had a pretty good spat of cases here in the community. You don’t hear much about it. They don’t even really report COVID unless it requires hospitalization, but I have a number of friends and acquaintances and certainly clients and patients that had at least mild COVID this season. Virtually everyone in the country, over 95% of people, adults have had COVID at least once. A lot of us, , more than once and most people have some pre existing immunity to COVID. One thing to remember is that the common cold is still the most common thing we see.”

How are respiratory diseases spread?

Dr. Whiteside said, “There’s reasons we call them respiratory diseases, it affects the respiratory tract and what you breathe in. That’s why things like certainly smoking and globally, air pollution are two the most important contributors to chronic disease, and can make things worse. So that’s something to remember. It starts with the respiratory route and usually in the air, whether by aerosols or tiny droplets, and there’s some work that we’ve done, even looking at particulates in air pollution may carry some of these agents at times, and it can basically, stuff you breathe in, and it goes in the lungs, and occasionally, it can go systemically and affect the whole body. Your natural symptoms have to do with the respiratory tract, including cough, and it’s very important to cough this out. Cough is a protective mechanism. So many people want to take a cough suppressant and I want to say, well cough is a good thing. It’s a way the body protects itself. You don’t want to cough on your partner, or your family members, or anyone for that matter. But you do want to cough it up and out when you can.”

If you cough something up, should you get rid of the phlegm or swallow it?

Dr. Whiteside said, “I’m a firm believer, you want to cough it up and out. You don’t want to swallow it. Even the respiratory viruses can enter the body through the gut. When you cough it up, that includes white blood cells, more or less puss and puss is good, because it means the body’s immune system is working, but that that needs to come out.”

The flu has been mostly mild cases right now.

Dr. Whiteside said, “Fortunately, not a lot of severe disease. There seems to be an endless train of different variants of COVID. These things can be hard to distinguish, obviously, as far as different symptoms, all of these things are flu like illness, of course, the respiratory symptoms, cough, congestion, fever, what have you. But how do you know it’s getting more serious? Well, high fever, which you can see an influenza worsening, respiratory symptoms or trouble breathing, which sometimes we can see with influenza or COVID. If you lose your sense of taste or smell, that’s often more characteristic of COVID. But all these things can be easily diagnosed in an ER by a simple throat swab. So, a lot of the home tests have not really proven that reliable, especially early on. So it can be very hard to distinguish these early on.”

How can respiratory illness be prevented?

Dr. Whiteside said, “That’s what the health department is all about obviously prevention. The basic principles, hand washing that’s in my book first and foremost among infectious disease folks like myself. Keep it clean at home and surfaces. Especially in kids it can be spread by fomites, things they touch, objects, this type of thing, as well as respiratory spread. If you’re really sick, you should stay home, keep kids home, if they’re really sick, seek medical attention if you’re getting worse. We talked about cough and you want to cough it out, but when you’re out in public cover your cough when you can. Even a mask is maybe appropriate in certain settings, if people who are vulnerable or still in crowds. Almost nobody wears a mask anymore. I think there’s still a place for masks including here in the medical care business. Hydration is important. It keeps the secretions mobile, nothing more important than the best water you can drink and keeping yourself hydrated, especially when you’re sick. Of course, avoiding our bad habits which that does most people in. Excessive alcohol, that’s big down here and smoking. Smoking and air pollution are important risk factors, especially air pollution. You don’t hear enough about, so you want to keep it as clean as you can at home, ventilation, air filters, just keep the dust down.”

How much water should a person have in a day?

Dr. Whiteside said, “Usually, especially with fever, you want to increase your hydration, several glasses of water each day. Water is the most important thing to drink. I mean, in my book water is life, rather than soda. Water is life. The flu shot, I think is the most important thing as far as vaccines go, everyone should get a flu shot. It’s not too late to get a flu shot. RSV, of course COVID have vaccines, but they’re I think they’re for more specialized populations at this point. But don’t forget your flu shot.”

What is the treatment for any of the diseases?

Dr. Whiteside said, “It’s mostly symptomatic treatment for these viral infections. There ain’t no cure in all the simple things. Rest, fluids, just let yourself get better, let your body take care of it. It’s mainly symptomatic treatment for these viral infections.”

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