Colds and Germs: Facts and Myths
Advice from Dr. Mike Lewis, pediatrician at The University of Kansas Hospital
Hands only need to be washed when they get dirty.
Frequent hand washing is the key to keep cold and flu germs from spreading. The right way to wash is to use antibacterial soap with hot or cold water, rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails. Continue washing for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
You can catch cold by being outside without a coat.
Multiple studies have proven this false. The only way to catch a cold is to be exposed to the virus.
It’s OK to give cough and cold medicine to children.
Not true. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows children may do worse with these medications, especially if they’re under six years old.
Taking Vitamin C or zinc helps treat colds.
Studies have shown that a normal vitamin C dose, 200 mg a day, has no effect on treating colds or reducing their severity. Also, there’s no clear-cut evidence that zinc helps. Benefits might be from the placebo effect, but more research is needed. There is some limited evidence that echinacea can help prevent a cold and relieve it sooner.
You cannot give your child ibuprofen and acetaminophen at the same time.
False. Both work in different ways. While it’s safe to give both at the same time, keep medicines organized so you do not give your child too much of one medication.
Flu shots can cause the flu.
This is scientifically impossible because an active flu virus is not present in the vaccine. A small number of people can become fatigued or have a low-grade fever after a flu shot, but this is not the flu. Everyone should get the vaccine.
You should always take a child with a fever to see a doctor.
Fever is one of the most common symptoms of a cold in children. Doctors will not change treatment plans for your child because of a fever. Give them plenty of fluids and acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen as needed. The exception is children under six months old, who should be seen by a doctor if they have a fever. Fever in a child under two months old is a medical emergency and requires immediate care.
Flu season started earlier than usual this year and has already surpassed previous the past two years, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s influenza surveillance report.
The department receives weekly reports from 43 sites across the state listing the number of patients at clinics with flu-like illnesses, said Charlie Hunt, Kansas state epidemiologist. In the past two years, patients with flu symptoms were under 1 percent of total clinical patients, Hunt said; this year, 2.7 percent of patients were reported as having a flu-like illness.
Hunt said ecology, animals, weather and changes in viruses contribute to the rise of flu-like illness. Over the past decade, flu season’s timing and its severity have varied substantially from year to year, Hunt said.
“It’s not unexpected this time of year,” Hunt said. “It’s going up this year compared to the last couple of years, 2010 and 2011 ... so it’s hard to make direct comparisons. Last year the season was later than what we usually see; it didn’t peak until March, and usually we see it in January or February.”
Kathy Colson, clinic coordinator at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said flu season in Kansas generally starts in January and ends in March.
“Right now in Kansas, there has been a slight jump up already in the second week of December,” Colson said. “There has already been reports of flu cases, and that’s a little earlier than normal.”
Students in the Lawrence school district are taking standard precautions to prevent the spread of influenza, said Sonja Gaumer, nursing facilitator for the district. The students are taught how to wash their hands and how to cover their mouths and noses for coughs and sneezes. In addition, hand sanitizer is frequently used in classrooms.
“It’s a school; you have a little bit of everything,” Gaumer said. “We’ve had stomach bug, some fever, vomiting.
Gaumer and Julie Boyle, Lawrence school district spokeswoman, said students are not experiencing an unusually high number of flu cases.
“The people who have the most problems with the flu are the elderly and the newborns,” Boyle said. “Those are the people that tend to end up with secondary bacterial infections, and you’ll see them in the hospital.”
Residents at Brandon Woods at Alvamar Nursing Home have not seen a single flu case so far, said administrator Jerry Lindenbaum. All residents have received a flu shot.
Flu shots are still available at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.