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Friday, November 18, 2005


This is my LIVE WRITE newspaper column for next week. Okay, it's sort of tame, but I do get paid and it has to be for all audiences. Feedback always welcome.

There are very few times when I have wanted to get sick. It has happened however. There was a time in Grade six when I was dealing simultaneously with the oh-so-mean Mrs. Barclay, a pending arithmetic exam and a bully. It may have been blasphemous, but I recall some intense praying that may or may not have led to the fantastic cold that kept me home for a few days. It was perfect… sick enough for my mother to insist on me staying home, yet well enough to truly enjoy the chicken soup, daytime soaps and catching up on my Hardy Boy mystery reading.

With that confession out of the way, I now really do want to be healthy all the time. I will assume that you, too, do not want to suffer from the common cold, the annual performance of a flu bug or the devastating pandemic we keep hearing about - always with an expert stating, “It’s not really a matter of if, but when.” With this assumption in mind, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and others.

There’s an annual campaign recommending flu shots, particularly for those who might have weakened or compromised immune systems and those who work in health care settings. Every family doctor and health unit in BC has information and advice on this, as does this link www.interiorhealth.ca

Germs will spread directly through kisses, sneezes and coughs, but can also sit on surfaces for up to 48 hours, waiting for a nice warm ride to come along. Cold and flu viruses hang out on hands, banisters, door knobs, toys, shopping carts, telephones, your children… just about everywhere. Remember the warning about germs on money? Researchers from the Wright-Patterson Medical Centre in Ohio recently collected 68 dollar bills from a concession stand and a grocery store, and examined them for bacterial contamination. Only four bills contained no detectable germs. I now imagine my wallet as some sort of microscopic zoo.

News articles and signs advocating hand-washing are on the increase. I was in a men’s room recently that had a poster reminding me to scrub, and also had a brilliantly coloured drawing of a hand, indicating the places I probably am missing when I wash (between the fingers at the hand and the tip of each finger).

When should you wash your hands? Once on your hands, germs usually travel to the eyes, nose or mouth. Washing five times a day and especially before you eat will help break that chain. Feeling sleepy? Wash before you rub your eyes. Driving alone and feel an itchy nostril? Don’t do it …for several reasons.

Flu shots and hand-washing seem to be the key messages. Here are more tips to help you avoid illness. Get enough sleep – your body can’t fight colds or other bugs without fully charging its batteries. Avoid flying on commercial airlines – their air circulation systems are implicated with the spread of infectious diseases. If you have to fly, keep your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes. If you can’t avoid hospitals or doctor’s offices, be extra cautious in these environments - sick people congregate there. Indoor air in Canada in the winter is usually very dry, which can dehydrate your sinuses – try a humidifier.

And finally, if your mother always warned you to wrap up warmly to avoid catching a cold, it seems she may have had a point. Scientists at the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff, Wales, say they have the first proof that there really is a link between getting cold and catching one. They took 180 volunteers and asked half of them to keep their bare feet in icy water for 20 minutes. They found 29% developed a cold within five days, compared with only 9% in the control group not exposed to a chill.

Bundle up, wash your hands and enjoy the pleasures of a Canadian winter.

A "microscopic zoo" in our wallets? I could have lived without that information. Your article was good enough to make me paranoid! I did find it interesting!
man, i'd rather accept the cold than spend my well days worrying about catching it. :D

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