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If you’ve been among the sick in recent weeks, here’s what may have been bugging you

Getting sick: Fact vs. fiction

You may have heard that going outside in the winter without a hat on will result in catching a cold, but is that really true? A doctor separates fact from fiction when it comes to what actually causes us to get sick.
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You may have heard that going outside in the winter without a hat on will result in catching a cold, but is that really true? A doctor separates fact from fiction when it comes to what actually causes us to get sick.

Feeling sick? You’re not alone. Whatcom County residents have been hit in recent weeks with a one-two punch from the flu and other respiratory illnesses.

What’s known as respiratory syncytial virus, knows as RSV, started to climb in December, spiked at the start of January, dropped in the middle of the month and then began climbing again, according to the Whatcom County Health Department weekly flu report that ended Jan. 26.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild cold-like symptoms in most people, but it can become serious for older adults and infants, such as turning into pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Illness caused by the A strain of the flu started to increase in December, hit its peak by mid-January and then started to go down, according to the health department report.

“As the respiratory virus detections from the (University of Washington) show there are still high levels in Western Washington but influenza A is starting to surpass those levels as well,” said Joni Hensley, the Public Health Nurse supervisor for the Whatcom County Health Department.

Nationally, the flu was hitting the southern parts of the U.S. hardest, according to the CDC.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family?

“We strongly recommend that people get vaccinated against influenza. It is not too late,” said Hilary Andrade, PeaceHealth spokeswoman in Bellingham.

The health care provider has asked people to not visit its St. Joseph hospital if they have symptoms that include cold, cough, fever, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea.

People who are sick but are coming to the hospital for a visit have been asked to wash their hands, wear a mask and contact the appropriate nursing department before entering a unit.

Learn more at cdc.gov/flu.

Flu symptoms

Don’t know whether you have a cold or the flu?

One difference between the two is that flu symptoms will hit you quickly, while cold symptoms come on gradually.

Other signs you have the flu include:

Fever, or feeling feverish or chills. However, not everyone with the flu gets a fever.

Cough.

Sore throat.

Runny or stuffy nose.

Muscle or body aches.

Headaches.

Fatigue.

Vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more common in children than adults.

You may feel some or all of the symptoms.

Signs you have the RSV infection usually include:

Runny nose.

Decrease in appetite.

Coughing.

Sneezing.

Fever.

Wheezing.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Prevent the spread of flu

Get vaccinated: It’s the best protection against the flu. The vaccine is recommended for those 6 months and older.

Other steps: Wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Avoid touching your face and eyes. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough. Stay home from work and school if you are sick. Stay away from those who are ill.

Source: Whatcom County Health Department

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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