Winter season means foothills cold rush

By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
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If you have been feeling a little under the weather lately, you are not alone. Health officials say the cold season has hit Auburn, and the flu may not be far behind. "It's cold outside and people move inside," said Dr. Mark Vaughan, a general practitioner with Auburn Medical Group. "They are in closer contact with one another so therefore, contagious diseases spread more easily." Vaughan said the recent cold spread is just the normal seasonal fluctuation in the occurrence of illnesses spread through respiratory secretions. The flu, he said, is a little different. "Many minor viral illnesses are commonly, yet incorrectly, referred to as "flu," he said. "Influenza is a specific type of virus, which causes thousands of deaths annually and occurs in seasonal outbreaks. It is a respiratory infection characterized by sudden onset, headache, fever, and body aches." The Centers for Disease Control tracks the occurrence of influenza in the U.S. And According to its Web site,, influenza has not significantly struck the Auburn-area yet this year. Skyridge pharmacist Tom Husak said his business has already been hit with significant increases in cold and flu medications. "Right now I am probably getting, on average, about 15 prescriptions a day related to colds and flus," Husak said. "It is pretty common for this time of year, but normally I am getting about two or three during other times of the year." So, what can you do if you find yourself coughing, fatigued and congested? For starters, Vaughan says, stay at home. "This behavior puts other people at risk by exposing them to the illness and contributes to further spread of disease," Vaughan said. "Measures can be taken to reduce the spread of illness through frequent handwashing and covering one's face when coughing or sneezing." He added that antibacterial hand sanitizers are not as effective as washing with soap and water to reduce the spread of the common viruses people spread at work. Sue Michaels, marketing manager and spokesperson for Sierra College, used to tackle work when she was sick. "I always used to drag myself to work when I was sick, but I have learned when you have a fever you are contagious and you are only doing harm to those you work with," Michaels said. "Now, when I come down with something, I just stay at home." Michaels said if she catches something early, she will start treating herself with zinc, zicam and vitamin C. "If I get lots of sleep I can usually shorten the duration of it," she said. "I'm not a doctor, but I think you need to give your body a chance to focus its energies on getting you well." She also said she is crazy about washing her hands. "Especially in the winter," she said. "Someone can sneeze, put their hand over their face to be polite and then open a door. You can come along and touch it and then touch your face." Vaughan supports a number of Michaels' techniques, but he had a few more preventative measures to add. "There is some evidence that echinacea, zinc, and vitamin C may help people avoid or limit the impact of common viral illnesses," he said. "It is much more effective to live a healthy lifestyle before exposure to illness. This means proper diet, exercise, rest and nutrition. Even the healthiest person can still catch the common cold, though." Flu shots help reduce a person's risk of getting influenza, he added. "It is also important to remember to wash your hands frequently with soap and water and keep away from other people, Vaughan said. You should also cover your face when sneezing or coughing. "Drink plenty of fluids and get enough rest," he added. "And see a doctor if symptoms seem different or more severe than a typical cold. For Michaels, her new system is working a lot better. "I used to only take off work until I was near death," she said. "Since I started taking care of myself right away, I have missed a lot less work and I feel a lot better. It has made a world of difference for me and I do OK now." The Journal's Jenna Nielsen can be reached at