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Medical professionals offer ways to beat winter illness

It’s the time of year when schools begin to empty out and people stay home from work with illnesses ranging from the flu to strep throat.

Medical professionals can predict when there will be a flu season, but they can’t predict what’s in store.

“We are fond of saying around here that flu seasons are predictably unpredictable so we don’t ever really know going into a flu season what that’s going to entail, how severe it’s going to be,” said Trina Teacutter, a nursing supervisor with Boone County Health and Human Services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 5 and 20 percent of United States residents get the flu, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized for it.

Deaths from the flu range from year to year, depending on the severity of the strains. It could be as low as 3,000 people and as high as 49,000.

Colds this time of year are a dime a dozen.

“We get primarily respiratory viruses but also intestinal viruses that start to rise when school comes back in and continue to rise,” said Dr. Michael Cooperstock, a doctor with MU Health.

Because its possible to get any kind of sickness this time of year, health professionals warn against several things, including touching the face after touching different surfaces.

“Take a few hours out of a day and think about how much you touch your face and try to limit as much as possible,” said Teacutter. “That will help prevent the spread of diseases, especially if you get something on your hands.”

ABC17 News looked deeper into the theory of dirty surfaces, including those thought to contain the most germs, including a shopping cart, a phone, a sink, and a public toilet.

After thorough cultures of those items, the lab results came back with minimal bacteria, and none of them were dangerous.

The shopping cart had very few bacteria to begin with and even less after the use of a sanitizing wipe.

The phone also contained a small amount of bacteria colonies. The sink and toilet had the most growth, and the sink contained six different colonies of non-pathogenic bacteria.

After the experiment, microbiologists said although they didn’t grow anything troubling or dangerous, there is still a potential that some of those germs could exist on surfaces.

They said a sick person is likely to contaminate something a healthy person might be about to use, whether its with a bacteria that causes strep or a virus that causes the flu.

That’s why Cooperstock recommends going beyond just disinfecting surfaces.

“Worrying about every surface you touch is probably going a bit too far,” he said.

Instead, he and other medical professionals offer several other ways to keep people on their feet this season.

Cooperstock stressed the number one rule to preventing illness is to get a vaccination for the flu or any other disease that has one.

He also said to avoid close contact with a sick person, and remember that people should avoid others if they are sick.

Teacutter said many people think by coughing or hands into their hands, they’re covering the germs and keeping them at bay.

In reality, she said those germs go straight into the air and could spread illness.

“What we recommend is coughing to sneezing into the crook of your elbow, I usually call it a cough pocket or a sneeze pocket,” she said. “It still covers your cough and sneeze, but it doesn’t get those germs onto your hands and so you’re less likely to put that onto a doorknob or a shopping cart.”

Finally, both Cooperstock and Teacutter advocate for thorough and frequent hand washing.

Teacutter said 20 seconds is the minimum amount of time necessary to truly clean the hands and keep them clean.

But Cooperstock said being aware of who’s sick is what’s really going to benefit people in the long run.

“Ultimately, you’re going to have infection spread, usually from person to person,” he said.

Boone County Health and Human Services offers walk-in appointments Monday thru Friday for flu shots for a small fee, although children are free.

Many pharmacies in the area offer free flu shots for adults as well.

Medical professionals say although people can feel a bit run down after getting the vaccine, that doesn’t mean they ended up getting the flu. Often, it’s because their body has begun to build anti-bodies.

You can find the weekly Missouri influenza report at this link. It shows how many cases have been diagnosed in Missouri by county. A new report is released every Friday.

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