Frequent Colds and Flu

The common cold is a group of symptoms in the upper respiratory tract caused by a large number of different viruses.

What Is a Common Cold?

Sneezing, scratchy throat, runny nose — everyone knows the first miserable signs of a common cold. But what is a common cold really? What causes you to catch colds frequently while your best friend stays well? And more importantly, how can you prevent getting a cold this season? Here are some common cold basics to help you protect yourself and your family from getting sick.

The common cold is a group of symptoms in the upper respiratory tract caused by a large number of different viruses. Although more than 200 viruses can cause the common cold, the perpetrator is usually the rhinovirus, which is to blame for causing 10% to 40% of colds. Also, the coronaviruses cause about 20% of colds and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes 10% of colds.

Although the common cold is usually mild, it is a leading cause of doctor visits and missed days from school and work. According to the CDC, 22 million school days are lost annually in the U.S. because of the common cold. Some estimates state that Americans suffer 1 billion colds annually.

How a Common Cold Starts

With a common cold, you can catch it from another person who is infected with the virus. This usually happens by touching a surface contaminated with cold germs — a computer keyboard, doorknob, or eating utensil, for example — and then touching your nose or mouth. You can also catch a cold by encountering secretions someone with a cold has sneezed into the air.

A cold begins when a cold virus attaches to the lining of your nose or throat. Your immune system sends white blood cells out to attack this germ. Unless you’ve encountered that exact strain of the virus before, the initial attack fails and your body sends in reinforcements. Your nose and throat get inflamed and produce a lot of mucus. With so much of your body’s energy directed at fighting the cold virus, you’re left feeling tired and miserable.

While getting chilled or wet is not a cause of common colds, there are factors that make you more susceptible to catching a cold virus. For example, you are more likely to catch a common cold if you are excessively fatigued, have emotional distress, or have allergies with nose and throat symptoms.

Common Cold Symptoms

With the common cold, you may have cold symptoms such as an itching or sore throat with sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, and mucus drainage. More severe symptoms, such as high fever or muscle aches, may indicate you have a flu rather than a cold.

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What Is the Flu?

Flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory infection caused by a variety of flu viruses. Symptoms of flu involve muscle aches and soreness, headache, and fever.

How Does a Flu Virus Make Me Sick?

Flu viruses enter the body through the mucus membranes of your nose, eyes, or mouth. Every time you touch your hand to one of these areas, you are possibly infecting yourself with a virus.

This makes it very important to keep your hands germ-free with frequent and thorough hand washing. Encourage family members to do the same to stay well and prevent flu.

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What Are the Different Types of Flu?

There are three types of flu viruses: A, B, and C. Type A and B cause the annual influenza epidemics that have up to 20% of the population sniffling, aching, coughing, and running high fevers. Type C also causes flu; however, type C flu symptoms are much less severe.

The flu is linked to between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States. The seasonal flu vaccine was created to try to avert these epidemics.

What Is Type A Flu Virus?

Type A flu or influenza A viruses are capable of infecting animals, although it is more common for people to suffer the ailments associated with this type of flu. Wild birds commonly act as the hosts for this flu virus.

Type A flu virus is constantly changing and is generally responsible for the large flu epidemics. The influenza A2 virus (and other variants of influenza) is spread by people who are already infected. The most common flu hot spots are those surfaces that an infected person has touched and rooms where he has been recently, especially areas where he has been sneezing.

What Is Type B Flu Virus?

Unlike type A flu viruses, type B flu is found only in humans. Type B flu may cause a less severe reaction than type A flu virus, but occasionally, type B flu can still be extremely harmful. Influenza type B viruses are not classified by subtype and do not cause pandemics.

How Is Type C Flu Virus Different From the Others?

Influenza C viruses are also found in people. They are, however, milder than either type A or B. People generally do not become very ill from the influenza type C viruses. Type C flu viruses do not cause epidemics.

Do Different Types of Flu Viruses Hit the Population Each Year?

Different strains of the flu virus mutate over time and replace the older strains of the virus. This is why it’s important to get a flu shot each year to ensure that your body develops immunity to the most recent strains of the virus.

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Do Different Types of Flu Viruses Hit the Population Each Year?

As determined by the CDC, the viruses in a flu shot and Flu Mist vaccine can change each year based on international surveillance and scientists’ estimations about which types and strains of the flu will be most potent that year. Previously, all flu vaccines protected against three influenza viruses: one Influenza A (H3N2) virus, one Influenza A (H1N1) virus, and one Influenza B virus. Today, Flu Mist and some traditional flu shots cover up to four strains: two Influenza A viruses and two Influenza B viruses.

About two weeks after getting a flu shot or Flu Mist, antibodies that provide protection against the flu viruses develop in your body.

What Is the Bird Flu?

The avian influenza virus causes bird flu. Birds can be infected by influenza A viruses and all of its subtypes. Yet, birds are not capable of carrying either type B or C influenza viruses.

There are three main subtypes of avian flu, including H5, H7, and H9. The subtypes H5 and H7 are the most deadly, while the H9 subtype is less dangerous.

Which Type of Bird Flu Is in the News?

Health care professionals had been very vocal about the strain of avian influenza known as H5N1.

The first cases of H1N1 flu were reported in the spring of 2009. Since the virus was new, most people were not immune to it, which meant that many more people became sick during that flu season. The virus was very different from the regular flu virus and caused the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years.

The reason H5N1 has caused so much alarm is its ability to pass from wild birds to poultry and then on to people. While wild birds are commonly immune to the devastating and possibly deadly effects of H5N1, the virus has killed more than half of the people infected with it. The risk of avian flu is generally low in most people because the virus does not typically infect humans. Infections have occurred as a result of contact with infected birds. Spread of this infection from human to human has been reported to be extremely rare.

Should I Worry About Catching Bird Flu?

People in the United States have less to fear than people who live abroad. Most of the illnesses associated with bird flu have been reported in Asian countries among people who have had close contact with farm birds. Also, people are not able to catch the bird flu virus by eating cooked chicken, turkey, or duck. High temperatures kill the virus.

Is There a Vaccine for Bird Flu?

Currently, there is not a bird flu vaccine available to the public. Additionally, it’s important to know that the regular influenza vaccine does not provide protection against avian influenza or bird flu.

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