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Wheezing Through Winter: 5 Common Winter Illnesses

Winter has come to Florida and with this cooler weather comes the holidays, a time where families get together to celebrate, and unfortunately, share their illnesses. Stress and potentially dangerous activities like hanging lights on the roof can cause injuries during a season where you’d rather not see a healthcare provider. In addition to sprains and pains, cold-weather sicknesses can develop.

Stay focused on having a healthy and happy New Year, by getting to know the signs and symptoms of these 5 common winter illnesses:

1. Common cold

Sneezing, coughing, dirty tissues everywhere – you know the scene well. Why, oh why, you ask, haven’t we cured the common cold? The challenge facing physicians is the primary group of pathogen causing the sniffles, known as rhinoviruses, has more than 160 known strains. It’s hard to create one vaccine that will target them all.

Typical signs and symptoms of a cold may include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Head and body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Low-grade fever (more common in children)
  • Mild fatigue

Symptoms usually last for 7-10 days, but you’re only contagious during the first few. The best thing to do is get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take over-the-counter medications if needed. Sleeping with a cold can be difficult at best, so try out these tips to get the full recommended amount of cold-fighting rest. You can reduce your risk of catching a cold by washing your hands often, and avoiding contact with those who are already sick.

2. Flu (Influenza)

If you think you were miserable with a cold, then you really don’t want to catch the flu. As Northerners flee from the cold, your risk of getting the flu goes up. While similar to a cold, symptoms of the flu tend to be more severe and may include:

  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Fever or chills (in certain cases)
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Head, muscle and body aches
  • Fatigue

The best way to prevent catching the flu is getting the flu vaccine. Additionally, covering your cough, washing your hands, sanitizing shared spaces with an EPA-approved disinfectant, and staying home when under-the-weather, helps to prevent spreading the virus.

3. Norovirus (The Stomach Flu)

Known as the “winter vomiting bug,” this very contagious virus can also cause stomach pain, nausea, fever, and watery or bloody diarrhea. Most stomach flu outbreaks occur between November and April. According to the CDC, Norovirus leads to 1.7 to 1.9 million outpatient visits in the U.S. each year.

Avoid catching or spreading the stomach flu by:

  • Washing clothes or bedding soiled by vomit and diarrhea immediately
  • Never preparing food when experiencing stomach flu symptoms
  • Frequently washing your hands and shared surfaces

Typically symptoms last 1-3 days, but can last up to 4-6 days for children and the elderly. If you do catch the stomach flu, stay home for the first two days as that’s when you are most contagious.

4. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both sides of the lungs and can either be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus – there are more than 30 different causes of pneumonia. Those who are chronically ill or have a weakened immune system, have asthma, are older adults, or are younger children; are at a higher risk of contracting the infection. Ninety percent of all pneumonia deaths occur in those over the age of 65, so it’s important to know how to reduce the chances of elderly patients and family members from coming in contact with people with pneumonia.

The initial symptoms of viral pneumonia are similar to the flu, but in more severe cases may also include:

  • Sharp chest pains that feels worse when coughing
  • Difficult time breathing
  • Fatigue and loss of appetite, which may lead to dehydration
  • Blue or grey tint to fingernails and lips (extreme cases)

Pneumonias can spread through the air through sneezing or coughing, so always cover your mouth when ill.

5. Strep Throat 

When should you be worried about a sore throat? Strep throat is generally more prevalent in children, although adults who are in contact with children are susceptible to catching it as well. Caused by bacteria group A Streptococcus, strep can turn very serious if left untreated. If you or your children experience the following symptoms, visit your local MD Now Urgent Care Center for a rapid strep antigen test and/or throat culture.

  • Swollen, tender lymph glands
  • Fatigue
  • Fever without a cough
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Rash (less common)
  • Red dots on the the roof of the mouth
  • White or yellow patches in the back of the throat
  • Stomach ache, possibly accompanied by vomiting

Along with rest and fluids, strep is treated with antibiotics. A culture may take a few days to evaluate, so your provider may prescribe antibiotics as a precaution before a definitive diagnosis.