Flu bugs can leave you out in the cold.
With the beginning of fall, the dreaded cold and flu season will be on its way. Millions of Americans will get sick and, in many cases, be kept out of work. What’s worse, if you live on the road, you’ll be exposed to germs from all over the country.
But there are moves you can make to stop colds and flu before they get to you and take you off the road.
The common cold
The common cold is a mild viral infectious disease of the nose and throat. It is the most common of all diseases, infecting most people at least once a year. It brings misery in the form of watery eyes; sneezing; running or blocked nose; scratchy, sore or phlegmy throat; coughing; headache; slight fever and a general lousy feeling. Symptoms usually clear up in three or four days, but they can last up to 10 days, with some coughing hanging around for up to three weeks. Colds are a little more common in winter, since people spend more time indoors in close proximity of others, and ventilation is less, increasing the infection risk.
According to the American Medical Association’s Family Medicine Guide, the common cold can be caused by approximately 200 different viruses. The viruses are transmitted from person to person by droplets from coughs or sneezes. The droplets are either inhaled directly or transmitted from hand to hand via handshakes or objects such as door knobs, and then introduced to the nasal passages when the hand touches the nose or eyes. Thus, hand washing is a vital preventative measure.
While children and health care workers are at a higher risk due to the high population density of schools and the fact that transmission to caretakers is highly efficient, truckers are also at risk.
“[Drivers’] exposure to many different environments where many people from across the country carrying different cold viruses gather, like truckstops, can increase the chances that they will contract the viruses that cause colds and influenza,” according to the American Medical Association.
Stopping at a truckstop involves a maze of touching doors and counters just by visiting the restroom, getting a soda from the drink area, paying at the register and then heading back to the truck.
Work-related stress also negatively affects the immune system, elevating a truck driver’s risk.
You can best avoid getting a cold by staying away from people who have one and the objects they touch, washing hands regularly and not touching your face. By the way, those much ballyhooed anti-bacterial soaps have no effect on the cold virus – it is the mechanical action of hand washing that removes the virus particles. Also, keep your immune system in top shape by getting enough sleep, reducing stress, eating nutritious foods and avoiding excess alcohol consumption.
“Long driving periods without adequate rest can suppress the immune response and make drivers more vulnerable to infection,” according to the AMA.
Taking care of your body will be worth it in the end because the cost of treating a cold is high. Not only will it cost you time away from work, the cost of the over-the-counter pills, lozenges or other miracle cures for the incurable virus can really add up. In fact, fighting the common cold costs the U.S. economy approximately $40 billion a year, which is more than other conditions like asthma, heart failure and emphysema.
Influenza, also known as the flu or the grippe, is also a contagious respiratory disease and is also caused by a virus. Like the common cold, it is spread from person to person by droplets released by coughing or sneezing. Symptoms of the flu vary widely and may include fever with shaking and chills, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing and body aches.
The flu’s misery symptoms are more intense and last much longer than that of the common cold. Recovery can take one to two weeks. But flu can also be deadly, especially for the weak, the elderly and children. Approximately 10 to 20 pecent of Americans get the flu each year, and about 20,000 die every year from the flu, according to the AMA.
Flu is most prevalent in the winter months, and outbreaks in North America tend to peak during January and February – but not always. Doctors are uncertain why flu season is during the winter, but it is believed to be for the same reason as that of colds – people are indoors more often, allowing for closer contact with other people.
Prevention recommendations are the same for keeping colds at bay: avoid contact with those who have the flu, wash hands thoroughly and regularly, avoid touching your face and take care of your immune system.
Fortunately, you can also protect yourself by getting a flu vaccine shot in October or November before the flu season begins (the season typically runs from November to April). Most doctors recommend that even healthy adults get a flu shot every year. In rare cases, flu shots can cause minor flu-like symptoms such as low fever and aches for a day or two, but it cannot give you the flu.
“The influenza vaccine is the best way to prevent influenza,” according to the AMA. “Influenza vaccine is inactivated so you cannot get influenza from the vaccine.”
Getting vaccinated is even easier now with the new inhaled FluMist, a vaccine that is inhaled through the nose. It is effective, safe, targeted at healthy adults and eliminates the dreaded shot in your arm.
There are no cures for viruses, so the common cold and influenza can only be defeated by the body’s immune system, which must produce enough antibodies to destroy the several million viral particles. Medications can only treat the symptoms.
Typical treaments include over-the-counter pain relievers, nasal decongestants, which reduce the inflammation in the nasal passages, cough suppressants and anti-histamines. A warm and humid environment and drinking lots of fluids and caffeine have been shown to help ease symptoms. Aspirin is also helpful for the flu and colds, but never give aspirin to a child or teenager who has the flu or a cold as it can cause a rare, but serious, illness called Reye Syndrome that can cause permanent brain damage or death.
There are some antiviral treatments, available by prescription, that can relieve or retard symptoms of influenza if given quickly after the first exposure to virus. If you have had the flu for more than two days, then these medications will usually only shorten your sick time by a day. Even though viruses cannot be cured, seeing a physician can be helpful for identifying and treating any underlying secondary infections that can result from colds and the flu, and providing advice or prescriptions for antiviral treatments.
Bar the Door to Colds and Flu
The best medicine for the flu and colds is to never get them in the first place. Follow these tips to stay healthy and on the road.
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Avoid contact with sick people and objects that they touch.
- Avoid touching your face because these respiratory viruses usually enter the body through the eyes and nose.
- Take care of your immune system by getting enough sleep, reducing stress, eating nutritious foods and avoiding excess alcohol consumption.
- If you cannot get fresh fruit and vegetables on the road, take a daily vitamin to help the immune system.
- Get a flu shot every year.
Do I need a doctor?
Even though the common cold and flu viruses cannot be cured, there are some cases in which you should see a doctor. See a doctor if