A single sneeze in a crowded place can infect 150 people within minutes, and those with weak immunity are most at risk.health and fitness Updated: Dec 13, 2008 23:07 IST
A single sneeze in a crowded place can infect 150 people within minutes, and those with weak immunity are most at risk. However, even toughened immune systems can get frazzled coping with the many viruses that clog the winter air and cause symptoms as varied as cough, cold, body-ache, fever, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting.
Sunanda Kulkarni was foxed when her 9-year-old daughter Anisha got a sudden attack of vomiting. “We are careful with our food and water and I could not figure out how she got such a bad stomach infection,” she says. The culprit, she found, was not a bacteria in food but a virus that can strike you in the most sterilised atmospheres.
“We are getting many cases of viral diarrhoea that last for five to seven days. It starts with vomiting and is followed by diarrhoea on the second day. The culprit this year is a rotavirus — a wheel-shaped, RNA-contained virus — that spreads easily in winter because the cold brings down natural immunity and makes people, especially children, more susceptible to infection,” says Dr Sunil Gomber, professor of paediatrics, GTB Hospital.
Experts say “localising” symptoms are the first clues to the underlying cause of the problem. A cough, sore throat and a runny or blocked nose indicate upper respiratory tract infection; diarrhoea, vomiting and stomachache are symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection, while cough and fever point to influenza.
Unlike bacterial infections, viral infections are self-limiting and subside on their own within a week. “Cough, runny nose and fever usually need symptomatic treatment. All you need is paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat the fever and body aches and a decongestant to unblock the nose. There is no need for antibiotics,” says Dr Subhash Arya, head of paediatrics and adolescent medicine, VLK Memorial Hospital, Pusa Road.
An AC Neilson study last month reported that 70 per cent of 453 doctors surveyed in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai used Vicks to relieve symptoms of cough, cold, chest congestion and sinusitis.
On an average, a child has about six bouts of upper respiratory tract infections (cough and cold) in a year, and in almost
all cases, it can be managed at home. “I don’t advise children to inhale steam as the risk of burns is high, I ask them to use saline drops to decongest a blocked nose,” says Dr Arya. You can make saline nose drops at home by boiling one teaspoon of salt in one glass of water. Cool and use as a nose drop.
A doctor is required only if the fever does not go down in three days or the mucous or sputum turns yellow or green. “These symptoms indicate pneumonic or bacterial infection, and antibiotics may be prescribed,” says Dr Gomber.
People with cold are contagious the entire duration of the symptoms, but they are the most contagious right after they get infected, before they develop symptoms. For influenza, people are infectious from the day before symptoms start till the fifth day of symptoms. To avoid infecting others, cover the mouth and nose while sneezing or coughing, throw away used tissue immediately and wash hands often.
To that, add eating healthy to build immunity and you’ll be fighting fit to face any old virus.