Though five classes of micro-organisms, or microbes, surround us in every calendar season, we seem to get severely shackled with microbes’ effects and after-effects in wintry times.
Of those five microbe classes (1. Bacteria, 2. Fungi, 3, Algae, 4. Protozoa and 5. Viruses), perhaps #5 (Viruses, then #1 (Bacteria) are topical and deadly in winters. When these germs or pathogens get established in some part of an invaded body (as new host), then bad things start to happen to many of us, like common colds, influenza, and measles … Or malaria, tuberculosis and chickenpox/shingles.
As this winter of 2019-2020 looms as a nasty influenza season, let’s remind ourselves of best practices to avoid flu bugs, or mitigate the effects of their invasion. To segregate viruses, common colds are classified as “rhino-viruses. Though these “rhinos” survive longer on common hard surfaces, common colds are not as much of personal health concern as influenza viruses. Not by long shots. ‘Tis sad yet true that scores of different rhinoviruses exist. So, a person may get an uncommon common cold again and again, triggered by different rhinoviruses. Some folks, like pediatricians and preschool staff members, can attest to that! Then, there are stomach flus, known as Novo-viruses. Yikes! These microbes can play survivor on hard surfaces for a fortnight! As Cruise Lines about how easy these can proliferate… Back to Influenza viruses.
Just today, TIME Magazine reported that this year’s FLU season “got off to a strange start.” To this layman, it seems implausible that experts play a “guessing game” in an attempt to match an annual variable vaccine with the viral strain that “might” proliferate and invade many of us. Yet that is apparently what happened. Microbes – 1, Experts – 0. Fortuitously, early onset of Influenza B this past fall may be less deadly than its more counterpart, Influenza A (H1N1), which is the same general strain that caused the deadly pandemic a century ago. I suppose this means more flu victims, yet fewer fatalities traced to these virulent microbes. TIME reminded me that Influenza A can also affect animals, which may contribute to virulent spreads.
As a temporal frame of reference, as bad as this winter flu season may be, we thankfully will not approach that trans-continental epidemic of the 1918 Spanish Influenza which clobbered half a billion folks (1/3 of the world population)! Mortality linked to that H1N1 influenza (flu) viruses sadly equated to 3%-5% of the global population. Yikes! And this “avian” microbe triggered high mortality rates for otherwise healthy adults (aged 20-40), such as U.S. “doughboys.” Our country buried ½ million flu victims in 1918-1919. As our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts share, this sharply lowered the overall US life expectancy by twelve (12!) years. Then, there were no vaccines of any merit, and no antibiotics to address secondary bacterial infections which often occurred in weakened hosts. Isolation, quarantine, and prayer were responses for those infected. Time-machine…
Oh, that KaBoomers and Novo-viruses would never meet today or tomorrow! Likewise, for young ones, people with immunity gaps or chronic conditions, and old folks [many with chronic conditions] who seem to take these infections the worst of all age groups in our modern times.
How persistent are these pesky microbes, and what are the main vector paths for those of us who get invaded? And importantly – can we outwit these oppressive microbes? Health.com’s January-February edition of Men’s Health offers “knowledge as power” to better our out-thinking chances against ‘em.
This source advises that influenza, as an airborne pathogen, survives for an hour before landing on a hard surface. After landing, the pathogen can survive for another ~ 8 hours. This is one reason for serious handwashing (for as long as it takes you to sing two rounds of Happy Birthday), and to cough into an elbow as a “vampire” cough… Hand towels? Those remain buggy for a couple hours. Oy!
Here are other valid defenses to avoid, or to minimize invasion attempts of influenza. Everyday preventative actions:
- Physical scrubbing of hands is the best as a first response. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers and wipes are a second defensive measure.
- Location, location, location! Influenza is transmitted via airborne droplets and surface contacts more in your pantry or kitchen than in a bathroom environment! Remember: hand/mouth links are significant, so wash hands well after touching an office’s or home kitchen’s coffee pot handle.
- Cell phones! These indispensable devices may have order-of-magnitude greater microbe concentrations than “most” toilet seats. 10-fold! Dr. Germ (Charles Gerba) reminds us that you get a double whammy when you use your cell phone in the bathroom!!
- In the bathroom, one can use clean paper towels when touching common fixtures like faucets or handles.
- Sharing water bottles.
- Most definitely use high heat and long drying cycles for dryers to dispense with bugs in washed clothing.
- Wipe the gym equipment thoroughly.
Transmission Paths: I don’t know when or how a bird passed influenza A (H1N1) directly or indirectly to its first human host. These nasty viruses spread from others’ coughs, sneezes, or spoken paths when droplets with viral matter (aka nanoscopic pathogens) make their way into our own mouths and/or noses. Handshakes and other physical contacts (even your knuckle after pressing ATM keys) are invasion routes too. Hand-to-mouth, so NO nail-biting! Our eyes possibly are lesser probability entry points too, as these organs do not have the physical defense semi-barriers that our noses and mouths do.
Incubation Time after infection? About 24 -48 hours of microbe incubation before someone feels sick. I generally note dry and watering eyes as my first notification of invasion… Then, 5-7 days of viral discomfort to repulse the invasion (or worse if secondary bacterial infections arise). Note: “Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others” for a week after encountering the virus.
And we face regular, yet guessing game influenza challenges every year…
Can flu (influenza strain) vaccinations help avoid or minimize effects on our lungs, noses, and throats?? My layman vote and voice is a conditional YES. I selfishly do not want to be one of America’s 15-25 million flu sufferers this year, or any year! Our CDC estimates that annual influenza symptomatic occurrences hit ~ 3-11% of our total U.S.A. population.
Influenza.com offers that vaccinations are “associated with a 44% reduction in all-cause mortality” for people aged 65 and older (like me). Why only ~ half of us older folks get vaccinated is beyond my grasp of understanding. AS quoted from influenza.com, “older adults need better protection.”
Chronic causes which exacerbate flu effects, and notably bump hospitalization rates, are diabetes, COPD, pneumonia, strokes, and kidney disease. Having had pneumonia twice, and being of Medicare age, I don’t want to roll the dice in my own guessing game for this year’s “viral variant.” We are blessed that modern medicine offers post-invasion ant-viral prescriptions to situationally minimize the effects of invasion, such as Tamiflu. Yet these after-effect prescriptions can be costly for some folks.
Possible mild to severe effects of any influenza variant include:
- Sore throat
- Runny/stuffy nose
- Muscle, joint or body aches
- (Possible) vomiting or diarrhea
At least we live in 2020, not 1918! Then, those were SEVERE effects.
With our relatively good fortunes acknowledged for medical advances and “strange” shifts of viral prevalence, we can and should be smart and sanitary. These little buggers were around long before we evolved. As an important sidebar, we know that over-prescription of antibiotics for common colds and secondary infections can possibly lead to “super-bug” Darwinian pathogens. (I hope we can hold super-bugs at arms’ length for a very, very long time with communicable disease control and prudent prescriptions.)
Hmmm – why do some folks “always seem to” avoid FLU effects, even if viral microbes enter their bodies? Good query. There certainly are subjective aspects, like how often a person is stuck in closed environments (airplanes) or spending time in colder climate air conditioning systems for offices and homes. Mo Rocca in his MoBituary podcast (Feb. 21, 2019), offered that those of us with higher “Neanderthal” DNA content may just benefit from slightly better immune systems. Honest.
It is a reasonably safe wager to suggest that at least “some” of these never get cold or flu folks are lucky.
In 2011, NBCnews.com reported that “everyone who is exposed to the flu IS affected by it…but their bodies just have a different way of reacting to it.” For people who were given influenza in a study, yet who didn’t symptomatically suffer; researchers found “differences in their biological metabolism and gene expression. These differences had to do with antioxidants.”
Another interesting (albeit small) research study, completed in 2013 as reported by NBCNEWS.com, suggested that at white blood cells’ cellular levels, “shorter” DNA caps, or TELOMERES, don’t work as well as part of our immune system. These blood-based biomarkers don’t copy like longer, healthier TELOMERES to fend off viral inflammations as best as they might. Wow! “Beginning at age 22 (in the study participants), telomere length started to predict whether they’d develop infections.”
Perhaps Grandma was right? Mine was 😊
Right! Do not hang around sick people when you can avoid contact and do strive to keep your general health. Load up on Vitamin P (fruits and vegetables). Load up on Vitamin Z (restorative sleep). Don’t over-train in your otherwise important workouts. Hydrate! Do not create excess inflammation from encountered stress or life’s dealings. Do not get too chilled.
And wash your paws vigorously.
As a KaBoomer Koach, I strive to be sanitary to minimize my own chances of invasion, and to also minimize my chances of unwittingly “helping” other invasions get started. I hope that I’m doing a good job, because I may not know that a flu pathogen is lurking inside…
Be very well and win your battles against microbial invasions,