The recent spell of rains has brought on a fresh bout of cold and influenza, making it tough for children returning to school after the summer vacation and professionals trying to work through the sniffles and fever without infecting their colleagues.
“Cold, cough, and breathing difficulty due to wheezing are all on the rise over the past month,” Dr. Kingsley Jebakumar, paediatrician, told The Hindu . The rainy weather leads to an increase in viral activity, especially that of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), thought to be the most common type that causes cold.
“RSV causes an epidemic among small children. The symptoms may vary from running nose and sneezing to severe cough and wheezing,” he added. Infants should be kept well-wrapped and protected from chill air, he said.
“We are also seeing an increase in diarrhoea cases because of the rains,” said Dr. K. Saravanan, M.D. (Internal Medicine). “The water is the main culprit, especially if you are eating out often. At home, even those using packaged drinking water should boil it well first.”
“Those who have a cold should exercise some personal discipline,” said Dr. Saravanan.
“They should use a kerchief or tissue to blow their nose, and avoid crowded places to stop the infection from spreading,” he added and explained how viral particles remain suspended in the air in the vicinity of four to five feet after a person sneezes in the open.
A diet high in protein content such as soups, eggs, spinach, and pulses will help minimise the incidence of cold, said Dr. Kingsley.
He advised parents of infants to consult a doctor immediately if their cough-affected child showed the following symptoms: fast breathing (more than 40 times per minute) accompanied by a grunting sound; if the lower part of the chest goes in and out while breathing; if the baby cries excessively and refuses feeds; and if the child appears tired or turns slightly blue.
“In the first year of school life, an average child will catch a cold every 20 days, the younger the more likely,” said Dr. Kingsley. “Schooling before four years is therefore not a good idea,” he added.
Both the flu and common cold are respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses.
Staying at home during the most infectious period of the cold – the first few days – is advised for professionals feeling under the weather.
“Frequent hand washing is helpful in reducing the spread of cold,” said Dr. Kingsley. “But avoiding fruits or skipping bath is wrong.”
There are a vast number of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines aimed at treating the common cold, but no vaccine, because it could be caused by as many as 250 viruses. Gargling with salt water has been found to be an effective way to soothe a sore throat.
“But patients should not mix allopathic and homeopathic medication to treat any health problem,” said Dr. Saravanan.