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Three Tips to Keeping Healthy in Cold and Flu Season

By Mary Lewis, R.N., C.E.N.

Birds fly south.  Pumpkins line store shelves.  Patients fill doctor’s waiting rooms and emergency departments.  In my years as an emergency room nurse, I’ve learned the unmistakable signs of the change of seasons.

As cold and flu season approach, let me recommend three simple ways to stay out of the waiting room.
Handwashing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses, from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, influenza, hepatitis A, and many types of infectious diarrhea.  When germs get on your hands, you can unknowing become infected simply by touching your eyes, nose or mouth.  Often when one person becomes sick, the whole family is at an increased risk for illness.
Children often share germs at school, so teach your children the proper hand washing method.
• Wash hands in warm water.
• Use soap and lather up for about 10 to 15 seconds (antibacterial soap isn't necessary — any soap will do). Make sure you get in between the fingers and under the nails where uninvited germs like to hang out. And don't forget the wrists!
• Rinse and dry well with a clean towel.

To minimize the germs spread among your family, make frequent hand washing a routine for everyone, especially:
• before eating and cooking
• after using the bathroom
• after cleaning
• after touching animals, including family pets
• before and after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives
• after blowing one's nose, coughing, or sneezing
• after being outside (playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.).

Don't underestimate the power of hand washing! The few seconds you spend at the sink could save you trips to the doctor's office or the emergency department!

The second way to stop the spread of germs is through "Cough Etiquette."  This phrase simply means:
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you couch or sneeze
• If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands
• Put your used tissue in the waste basket
• Wash your hands with soap and water and/or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner.

Thirdly, consider getting a flu shot.  Flu shots are a good idea for most people, and a great idea for those:
• under 18 or over 50 years old
• who provide an essential community service
• who have chronic health conditions or a weakened immune system
• who are pregnant during flu season.

These three simple precautions will minimize your risk of becoming ill and will decrease the spread of illness within our communities.

Even with your best efforts, many visits to the emergency room can not be prevented.   The staff of the Huguley Emergency Department shares the goal of meeting your medical needs in a timely fashion with efficient and friendly customer service.   We recognize that everyone’s time is extremely valuable, so we continuously implement measures that get patients out of the waiting room and into treatment sooner.  We want to be your choice when the need arises. We are not content to be an average emergency department—we want to be extraordinary.

Mary Lewis has been a registered nurse for fifteen years.  She earned certification as an emergency nurse in 2003, and she currently serves as the director of the emergency department for Huguley Memorial Medical Center.