Thursday, November 15, 2012
Cold and Flu Season Questions
There's been a rather abrupt turn from fall to winter where I live. I began getting stuffed up the other day and assured myself that it was allergies. I'm sure a lot of plants pollinate when the temperatures change from 55F to 25F, right? Then came the aches, sore throat, headache, and itchy eyes. The notion of "itchy eyes" is most confusing of all. If you've never felt it, the phrase is inconceivable, but when you do feel it, well, they don't exactly itch, but it's the closest you can get to describing the symptom in your current condition. It baffles me that I get colds when it turns from fall into winter. And it's not just me, it happens to loads of people. Now, I'm no cold scientist, but it occurs to me that the common cold is a virus, so it makes no sense that everyone gets them seasonally. And the same with the flu for that matter. Why is there a flu season? And if it is based on temperature, shouldn't it be flu season somewhere in the world at all times? Then again it also makes no sense that a cure still eludes us for the most common of viruses.
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An awesome email reply I received:ReplyDelete
I noticed the "Cold and Flu Questions" you listed at the bottom of an email sent out today. I've been a Steep and Cheap customer for some time and thought I'd lend my expertise to answer the questions posed. It might be nice to provide the answers to some of the questions you raised with your customers. I have a Master's of Public Health Degree from focused on infectious diseases and vaccinology. I currently work as a researcher at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
Cold (rhinovirus) and Flu (influenza virus) are both viral pathogens that occur more commonly in colder months. It has been demonstrated that with influenza, the virus is able to survive outside the body longer in colder temperatures, making transmission easier in the winter. With both Cold and Flu the fall and winter months bring the start of school (one of the best places for disease transmission) as well as people spending more time indoors and in close quarters, again making it easier to transmit either virus. These are the primary reasons we see more Cold and Flu in the colder months. You are correct though, that it is always "Flu Season" somewhere in the world. During North America's summer season, it is flu season in the Southern Hemisphere.
Why don't we have a cure for these common viruses?
Well, we have a series of influenza vaccines that are put into a combination vaccine each year - the seasonal influenza vaccine that doctors are always recommending. This will provide good, but not perfect, protection
against the most common strains of flu for that particular season.
But why don't we have a vaccine that protects from the flu for several years, or one for the Common Cold? The short answer is that these viruses mutate and evolve so rapidly that by the time we develop
a vaccine, there are new strains that won't respond to that vaccine formula. There are 99 recognized types of human rhinovirus for example. But, don't despair, scientists are making excellent progress on identifying parts of these viruses that remain the same across all the different strains in hopes that they can develop a vaccine that will target these specific viral pieces, providing long-lasting immunity.
Until that time comes, wash your hands frequently,
practice good cough etiquette, and stay home from school or work when you're sick so that you don't share your misfortune with others.