Thursday, January 12, 2012

Utah health expert: No cure for the common cold, but common sense can prevent it

Health • Avoid infecting others, and get your flu shot.
By Patty Henetz

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: January 12, 2012 01:01AM
Updated: January 12, 2012 01:01AM
One billion.

That’s the normal common-cold count each year in the United States. Broken down, that’s two to three colds per adult and six to nine per year for kids — a battle no amount of echinacea or zinc could ever win.

In fact, say public-health researchers and epidemiologists, there are only four ways to prevent colds, and none involve pharmaceuticals or supplements: Wash your hands, get enough sleep, exercise and don’t smoke. Beyond that, there is only mixed evidence that alternative medicines or home remedies can help.

Here are the basics.

Wash your hands often • Use soap and warm to hot water. Try singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself a couple of times to make sure you’re washing them long enough. Refrain from touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth, because they are the cold virus’s entry points. Cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand to keep from spreading viruses to handrails, doorknobs, computer keyboards, your cellphone or any other surfaces, where they can live for three to five hours. If you don’t have soap, use alcohol-based hand disinfectant. Or both. Because other people probably haven’t sung “Happy Birthday” to themselves even once after using the bathroom or coughing.

Get your zzzzs • Research has shown that subjects deliberately dosed with a common cold virus were three times more likely to develop a cold if they slept seven hours instead of eight or more. Resting isn’t the same as sleeping.

Get moving • Teresa Garrett, director of disease control and prevention at the Utah Department of Health, says there is good evidence that regular exercise can stave off viruses. “We’re always telling people exercise is good for you,” she says. “It builds up your immune system, you are healthier, you drink more water, you do all the things you’re supposed to do.”

Thank you for not smoking • Even just being around others’ smoke dries out your nasal passages and paralyzes the cilia that sweep germs out of your lungs, a problem for people with chronic lung diseases and asthma. Yet a study by the National Institutes of Health of heavy smokers, which adjusted for chronic conditions, weight, physical activity, vitamin supplement intake and drinking alcohol, found no increase in the smokers’ cold frequency — they just lasted longer. And speaking of drinking: Alcohol dehydrates, which helps your body create a virus-friendly environment.

Worse, having a cold means a greater likelihood of developing the flu, viral bronchitis and viral pneumonia.

Flu season goes through March or April, so there’s still time to get a shot. “It’s really never too late,” Garrett says. “For the average person, getting the shot every year is a really good idea.”

Once you get a cold, you may be able to take the edge off your symptoms with vitamin D3, zinc acetate, echinacea and vitamin C, all of which have been subject to research and shown sporadic effectiveness.

Honey can soothe sore throats and suppress coughing but should never be given to children less than a year old. Massage can make you feel better because it releases oxytocin, the contentment hormone that counters stress, a known contributor to multiple illnesses including the common cold. Chicken soup can help because it is hot, liquid and usually contains garlic, which may boost your immune system.

But, as Garrett points out, a cold — caused by any one of more than 200 viruses — will be with you for seven to 14 days. You are contagious for those first seven days.

“You’re a hazard to others,” she says, especially to people with compromised immune systems due to diabetes, cancer, HIV, high blood pressure, arthritis or any other chronic illness.

“Staying home when you don’t feel good is important,” she says. “We don’t do enough of that in our culture.”

Cold season

R Defend yourself and others from cold viruses with common-sense health practices, which are far more effective than any other remedy.

© 2012 The Salt Lake Tribune
Utah health expert: No cure for the common cold, but common sense can prevent it
By Patty Henetz

The Salt Lake Tribune

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