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October 31, 2006 > Get Ready for the Cold and Flu Season

Get Ready for the Cold and Flu Season

Washington Hospital Seminar Examines Upper Respiratory Infections and Pneumonia

by Washington Hospital

With the cold and flu season just around the corner, it’s time to think about ways to reduce your chances of getting sick this year. While the common cold is a minor inconvenience, influenza is a dangerous respiratory illness that can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia, and even death.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding about the flu and colds,” said Dr. Deepti Saxena, who practices family medicine at the Washington Clinic/Fremont. “Both are upper respiratory infections caused by a virus, but influenza is much more serious than a cold with many more symptoms.”

Saxena will talk about upper respiratory infections and how to protect yourself this cold and flu season at an upcoming free health and wellness seminar. “Upper Respiratory Infections, Pneumonia” is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, November 7, in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD Auditorium at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, Fremont. To register, call (800) 963-7070.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year with the flu and 36,000 die from its complications. An estimated 63,000 people die from pneumonia each year.

You can get the flu if someone around you who has it coughs or sneezes. The virus can pass through the air and enter through your nose or mouth. You can also get it by touching surfaces like ATM buttons or door knobs that have been touched by someone with the flu. The virus can enter your body through your nose or mouth if you touch them after touching a contaminated surface. That is why it’s so important to wash your hands frequently, especially during the cold and flu season, and cover your mouth when you cough.

Flu symptoms are much more severe than those of the common cold. Cold sufferers rarely get fevers or headaches, or experience the extreme exhaustion associated with the flu. With the flu, symptoms include: body aches, chills, dry cough, fever, headache, sore throat, and stuffy nose.

Vaccine is Best Shot at Prevention

A yearly flu vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza. Scientists calculate which flu strains will be prevalent each year and develop a vaccine that will protect against them.

“Everyone should get a flu shot, including children,” said Saxena. “It is definitely recommended for people who have chronic diseases and are over age 50.”

Until recently, the flu vaccine was only available as an injection. Now there is an approved nasal spray that is more effective than the flu shot, but is not appropriate for everyone. For example, those with lung conditions, metabolic disorders, or weakened immune systems should not use the nasal spray.

Saxena will talk about the different methods in her upcoming seminar as well as medications that are available if you do get the flu. Because the flu is a virus, it can’t be cured with antibiotics. But there are several medications on the market that will reduce the number of days with symptoms when taken within the first 48 hours after the flu begins.

She will also discuss pneumonia, a serious complication of the flu, which can cause either viral or bacterial pneumonia. The main symptoms include: cough with greenish or yellowish mucus; fever with shaking and chills; sharp or stabbing chest pain; rapid, shallow breathing; and shortness of breath.

There are generally no effective treatments for most types of viral pneumonia, which usually heal on their own. Early treatment with antibiotics can cure bacterial pneumonia.

A vaccine is also available for bacterial pneumonia. People who are over 65 or have lung disease or compromised immune systems should get the vaccine.

To learn more about staying healthy and avoiding the flu this year, attend the seminar on November 7. To register, call (800) 963-7070.  For more information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit

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