Staying Well and Preventing Seasonal Illness

Today’s post comes from Dixie Harms, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C, BC-ADM, FAANP. Dixie is a family nurse practitioner at Family Medicine of Urbandale in Urbandale, IA and also serves as Adjunct Clinical Faculty at the University of Iowa College of Nursing. She specializes in diabetes care and bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. Dixie is also a member of ENC’s Health Professional Advisor panel.

During this time of the year, there are many holidays that will find families gathering to celebrate.  Holiday seasons are very enjoyable and no family member wants to miss out.  As a health care provider, we hope that everyone stays healthy, but we know that frequently family members come to these gatherings a “little under the weather.”  As a result, viral and bacterial infections can be readily spread to anyone of any age.

What is the difference between a viral and bacterial infection?  A viral infection is caused by viruses that include the common cold, influenza, shingles and the stomach flu.  A bacterial infection is caused by bacteria that include strep throat or urinary tract infection.  These infections can have similar symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, fever, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue.

One of the viruses that is frequently seen during this time of the year is influenza (also called “the flu”).  This can be confusing for the public because the term “flu” is thought to consist of symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  These types of symptoms are also referred to as the “stomach flu” or what the health care community calls “viral gastroenteritis.”

The flu has many different symptoms including a fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit or feeling feverish, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches and fatigue.  Occasionally in children, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can be seen.  Influenza can be spread when people cough, sneeze or talk.

During early December 2012, influenza has been fairly widespread throughout the United States and is found to be occurring earlier than most years.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu activity typically peaks in January and February each year.  Complications from the flu can include dehydration and pneumonia, which can be very serious, even deadly, complications for young children, older adults and those with chronic medical conditions.  Each year over 200,000 persons are hospitalized with flu-related conditions.  Between 1976 and 2007, death rates ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 people per year.


What can you do to stay well and prevent seasonal influenza?

The following are recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.  The CDC advises everyone to TAKE 3 actions to fight the flu.

1.  Take time to get a flu vaccine.

  • Everyone over age 6 months should get a flu vaccine

2.  Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.  If soap and water are not available, use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.  Germs are spread this way.  Some viruses can live on inanimate objects for over 24 hours.
  • Avoid close contact with sick persons.
  • If you or a family member becomes ill, stay at home and limit contact with others until 24 hours after the fever has stopped.

3.  Take antiviral flu medications if your health care provider prescribes them.

  • Antibiotics will not cure the flu
  • Anti-viral medications may make the flu symptoms milder and potentially shorten the duration of the illness.
  • Anti-viral medications work best when started within two days of getting sick.

In addition, it’s always smart to maintain a baseline of health by getting enough sleep, exercising and eating a balanced, nutritious diet that includes a protein-rich breakfast. Especially in times of high stress, making sure to take care of yourself with these basic steps can go a long way.

As a family nurse practitioner, I see many cases of influenza every year that could be prevented.  During the months of September, October and November; we routinely offer flu shots to all patients that visit the clinic.  I frequently hear from patients that they don’t want to get a flu shot because they never get sick.  To me it seems pretty simple – get a flu shot to prevent seasonal flu OR potentially miss work for 10-14 days by not getting a flu shot.


Want more information?  Check out these websites–


I wish all of you happiness, healthiness, Happy Holidays and a blessed New Year!

Dr. Dixie Harms, DNP, ARNP, FNP-C, BC-ADM, FAANP

Family Nurse Practitioner

Anna Shlachter MS, RDN, LDN

Anna Shlachter, MS, RDN, LDN is the Program Manager, Nutrition Research and Communications at the Egg Nutrition Center

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