The days are getting darker, the night air is chilly, and the stockings are beginning to hang from the chimney with care. Christmas is fast approaching and Santa is busy preparing for the season. Time to get ready for the cold and flu season. Flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. In Arizona, flu activity is growing and expected to peak in February then diminish as temperatures rise.

The common cold and flu, or influenza, are both viral infections of the respiratory system with many of the same symptoms, such as coughing, nasal congestion, and fatigue. However, the flu has some different and more severe symptoms than the common cold. Cold symptoms tend to be milder. People with colds have more sneezing, itchy throats, and runny noses. Influenza is harsher and can be more serious to manage.

Some of the first symptoms of the flu are usually a high fever, body aches, headaches, chills and extreme fatigue. Nasal congestion, sore throat, and coughing may also develop after a few days. The key difference is the severity of symptoms. Influenza causes a high fever; a cold may lead to a mild fever if any. Headaches are rare with a cold but common with the flu. Cold symptoms emerge gradually, flu symptoms come on more suddenly, like a freight train.

The first healthy habit to prepare for the cold and flu season is to get a flu shot, which can reduce your risk and severity of the flu. Maintain your healthy living habits through the holidays. Eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, exercise, and get a good night of rest. Practice proper hand washing, keep your hands away from your face, cough and sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not your hands.

If you get a cold or the flu virus, stay home and rest. Drink plenty of fluids to let your body fight the infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers will help with symptoms.

Don’t believe the misinformation about colds and especially the flu. I have been hearing these false claims since I was a child and it strains belief to think these myths still linger on. For example, you can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat or with wet hair. Not true. Colds and influenza are viral based infections that spread from one person to the next. If you think it’s a myth or sounds like a myth it probably is false. You can quickly dispel these untruths with a quick search.

Do your best to gear up for the cold and flu season as it is intertwined with the cold winter holiday season. Try to stay balanced in your daily healthy routines and don’t get too stressed. Keep it simple and do the things you enjoy. As Mother Teresa said, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.”

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Jon Holden is a PA-C at Agave Family Physicians, 21300 N. John Wayne Pkwy., Maricopa.

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