Contagious Christmas cheer
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Are your co-workers out with colds this holiday week?
Are family members sniffling and sneezing after visits from relatives?
The best thing you can do is be happy, wash your hands and, well, avoid people.
"There are plenty of germs out there that people can get as they circulate," said Dave Zazac, a spokesman with the Allegheny County Health Department. "In the general course of holiday greeting and meeting, people are going to get sick."
More than 200 viruses that can give you a cold are out in force during winter. All the holiday bussing and hugging are reasons that Americans suffer 1 billion colds annually.
Mr. Zazac said there was no cold epidemic sweeping the county, although the first flu case of the season -- Type A influenza -- was reported last week.
But it doesn't take a lot of imagination to imagine desks, tabletops, utensils or furniture on which people have sneezed or coughed. Those viruses can travel 3 feet, Mr. Zazac said, and some can live on surfaces for hours.
"That's where proper hand washing, personal hygiene, and environmental cleaning and disinfection can come into play to break the chain of transmission from germs to people," he said.
Ample supplies of flu vaccines are still available at the county's Health Department Clinic to help protect against the three strains of influenza virus expected to circulate this winter. The shots are a covered benefit for some Medicare recipients.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, adults average two to four colds a year; school-age children can have as many as 12 annually. Women, particularly those between the ages of 20 and 30, have more colds than men, possibly from their closer contact with children. People older than 60 usually average less than one cold per year.
The institute reports that colds in the U.S. are more common in fall and winter because of the opening of schools and the fact that during inclement weather people stay indoors, increasing the chances that germs will be exchanged along with holiday gifts.
Plus, the most common cold-causing viruses survive best in low humidity, which is during the colder months.
While there's general agreement that personal hygiene -- hand washing, the avoidance of touching your nose, eyes and mouth, and covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing -- can go a long way toward preventing colds, help can come from elsewhere.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, there are immunity-boosting foods that can bolster cold-season health. These include fresh, organic and easily digestible foods such as organic milk and yogurt, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and ghee, or clarified butter.
Ayurvedically speaking, sweet, sour and salty tastes are better for the body's winter balance than astringent, bitter and pungent flavors, although all six should be included in diets.
If diet and personal hygiene are too much bother, staying in a good mood could be the final bulwark against a cold.
A study by Carnegie Mellon University health psychologist Sheldon Cohen in the November/December issue of "Psychosomatic Medicine" replicated his 2003 research that found people who displayed generally positive outlooks had a greater resistance to developing colds that those who were rarely upbeat.
His research showed enhanced regulation of interleukin-6, an infection-fighting substance, by people with positive emotional styles. Those styles were identified by Dr. Cohen as traits of high self-esteem, extroversion, optimism and a feeling of mastery over one's life.
Left unsaid in the study was how insufferable those people can be around others who have colds.
First Published December 27, 2006 12:00 am