Editorial: Tis the Season to be Sick

Trent Ernst, Editor

Welcome to the heart of winter. While its tough to tell right now, the days are slowly (ever so slowly) starting to get longer, and the north will soon start warming up. That doesn’t mean that it won’t hit -30 again, just that we’ve started (ever so slowly) to turn our face once more unto the sun.

The heart of winter also means that we’re in the heart of flu season, and this year has been a particularly bad one. And it’s not just Erin who has been getting her butt kicked by a tiny virus. No, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control, British Columbians are coming down with influenza earlier than in previous flu seasons.

“This year we are seeing an earlier increase than we normally expect,” said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, one of the giant pulsating brains over there. But getting hit hard early in the year doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be worse overall. “We’re only about halfway through the influenza season, which can span anytime between November and the end of April.”

If you were one of the lucky ones to come down with the flu around Christmas, there is a good chance it was a variation of the H3N2, which tend to be more severe type of virus compared to other variations of the flu.

Many people equate flus and colds with getting outside in the nasty winter weather, but that isn’t typically the case. While being cold can drop our natural defences, it’s being indoors that is the killer, says Skowronski. “That social mixing that we all go through during the holiday period likely will have facilitated further spread.”

Even better, she says, with the kids heading back to school this week, they’re keeping an eye out to see if that will cause another round of the flu.

Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through the coughing, sneezing, or even talking of someone with the flu. Flu viruses also may spread when people touch something with flu virus on it and then touch their mouth, eyes, or nose. It is not just the flu. Many other viruses spread these ways too.

People infected with flu may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. That means you may be able to spread the flu to someone else before you know you are sick as well as while you are sick. Young children, those who are severely ill, and those who have severely weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for longer than five to seven days. But how many parents are willing or able to keep their kids home for a week after the symptoms have stopped?

While you can’t prevent coming into contact with people with the flu, you can do things to stop the flu from coming in.

The weakest link in your immune system is your face. Here is where the literal holes in your prime defensive system (your skin) are. And of these, the worst offender is your eyes. Your mouth leads down to a pit of acid, death to invaders, and your lungs, while often a prime suspect, are covered in a slime that traps viruses. But your eyes? Your eyes are not just the window to your soul, they are defenceless against viruses.

But how do the viruses get in? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a lot of people licking my eyeballs. Or touching them with their fingers, or even sneezing on them. But in this case, you are your own worst enemy.

Viruses stick to surfaces. Tables. Door handles. Other people’s hands. And as soon as you touch these surfaces, the virus transfers to your hand. And while the thought of someone else touching your eyeball is ridiculous, I bet you’ve touched your own eye at least once during this article. Can’t you feel it start to itch? Must rub eye….

It’s nearly impossible to not touch your eyes. And if there are viruses on your hand, there’s a good chance that you’re going to get sick. So your first line of Defense is to kill them viruses. Wash your hands. Use an alcohol hand sanitizer. Keep your hands clean.

Sometimes, though, you want to rub your eye, and there is no Purell nearby. What to do? Don’t use your hands. I’ve taken to using a corner of my shirt to rub my eye with. It’s not, perhaps the most styling thing to do, but I have managed (so far) to avoid getting sick this winter.

Next week, we’ll be discussing the fine art of sneezing in your sleeve.