Skip to Content



Learn...

about the Dean difference.

Published on January 13, 2014

Warding Off Winter Illness

St. Mary's Nurse Epidemiologist Ellen Smith shares her tips on staying healthy this winter

Southern Wisconsin winters can bring bitter cold, blinding snow storms and a bevy of bad bugs. Those bugs, and specifically viruses, can leave those affected searching for any help available.

 “Primetime for the flu is after the holidays.  And that’s because everyone has just been close together in confined areas exchanging their germs,” says St. Mary’s nurse epidemiologist Ellen Smith.  “Usually we see the flu peak here in Southern Wisconsin near the end of January and/or early February.  Right now we seem to be on target for a typical year.” 

The fact that we had exceptionally cold weather which keeps people inside in close quarters, also helps to spread germs.

The number of confirmed cases has been on the rise in our community as well as nationally.  A few cases have been severe, requiring hospitalization, especially in generally young or middle aged adults.  This is different than last year as most hospitalizations were primarily was seen in the elderly population.

The flu can be deadly.  According to the CDC between 3,000 and 49,000 people die each year after contracting the flu.  During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, about 12,000 people died.

“Common symptoms of the flu include fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose and body aches.  In some people these symptoms are much more severe than in others.   And, unlike a cold where you typically feel it coming on slowly, with flu the symptoms often are dramatic,” says Smith.

So how can you avoid the flu?  First, make sure you’re regularly washing your hands, especially after blowing your nose of covering a cough or sneeze with your hands.  Gel sanitizers are a good option when soap and water are not available.  Also, get vaccinated. This truly is the best way to protect yourself and the people around you.

“It’s never too late,” says Smith.  “It takes one to two weeks after you receive the shot to develop the immunity. So if you haven’t gotten a flu shot, now is the perfect time!”

Flu Facts

  • You’re contagious one day before and 5-7 days after you become sick.
  • Every year 3,000-49,000 people die from the flu.
  • Anyone six months of age or older can get the flu shot.

Norovirus – the “Stomach Flu”

Another bug we tend to see this time of year is norovirus, commonly called the “stomach flu.”  Norvirus is pretty contagious and spreads from contaminated food or water or by touching contaminated surfaces.  Anyone can become sick with norovirus.

“You’ll know it when you have it.  It’s characterized by a sudden onset of diarrhea and vomiting that typically lasts about one to three days.”  Smith says it comes on so fast that you literally can wake up feeling fine but feel terrible by the time you get to work.  It doesn’t take long to develop.  You can become sick just 24 hours after being exposed to it.

“Cleaning your home is really important if a family member is sick,” says Smith.  “It doesn’t take many of these virus particles to bring on symptoms in someone else.  That means if your family member has it, you really need to use a bleach towelette or other over the counter bleach cleaner and wipe down high-touch surfaces like your cupboards, handles, light switches – anywhere the infected individual would frequently have touched.”

Careful hand washing with soap and water, especially after using the toilet or changing diapers and before eating, is important.  Also, wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them.  It’s important to remember when you are sick, do not prepare food for others.  It’s always important to disinfect and clean surfaces in your home routinely.

Smith also recommends people avoid sharing a bathroom with affected individuals, when possible.  That’s because virus particles are spread into the air when someone vomits, so the bathroom would have the most contamination.

Keep in mind, norovirus can be spread from the moment you feel ill to at least two to three days after you feel better. 

Kids are particularly at risk and sometimes the first ones to pick it up simply because they aren’t as good at hand hygiene, says Smith.

Norovirus Facts

  • Norovirus sickness lasts for 1-3 days.
  • You can spread virus particles for 3 days to as much as two weeks after you feel better.
  • Anyone can get norovirus, and it’s possible to have it multiple times during your lifetime.

RSV

This time of year kids also are affected by something called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.  It causes a cough very similar to croup.  Adults aren’t quite as susceptible and cases and are usually are less severe.  However, it’s a it can be a dangerous illness for the elderly.

By age two, most children in the U.S. will have been infected by RSV.  In fact, it’s the most common cause of an inflammation in the lungs and airways for children under one year of age. 

“Typically, we’ll see RSV in the young population in the wintertime,” says Smith. “We really encourage you and your children to stay home from work or school if you’re sick to help slow the spread.”

RSV is transmitted by droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air.  Other people are infected when they inhale the droplets or touch their eye after touching a surface where droplets landed.

The best protection from RSV is thorough and frequent hand washing and avoid hand to face contact whenever possible.  The young and elderly are often most at risk. In addition, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, like door knobs, will help.

RSV Fast Facts

  • Most children will have had RSV by the time they are two years old.
  • RSV infections last about one to two weeks in children.
  • Every year 75,000-125,000 kids are hospitalized due to RSV.

Rub a Dub Dub

To be most effective, hand washing must be done properly.  Here are some tips for squeaky-clean success:

  • Apply plenty of soap and rub vigorously for at least 15 seconds – sing the “happy birthday song” twice. That should do it!
  • Be sure to wash under your fingernails.
  • Rinse with warm water.
  • Use a towel to turn-off the faucet and open the rest room door.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid Illness by Keeping your Home Clean

Washing your hands regularly is one of the most important things you can do to prevent illness.  According to the CDC, thoroughly cleaning your home also is important, especially if someone there is ill.  The CDC advises carefully washing fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.

For More Information

For more information or to arrange an interview with one of our Dean providers or staff, contact Dean Clinic Communications Manager Kim Sveum at kim.sveum@deancare.com or (608) 294-6080.

2013

Dean in the News

Recent videos and news articles about Dean, as covered by the news media.

A pain in the joint: Living with arthritis, The Madison Times, August 20, 2014

Getting healthy for back to school, WISC-TV, August 18, 2014

Dr. Zorba Paster talks about cancer testing, WISC-TV, August 18, 2014

Local family encouraged by new colon cancer screening, NBC15, August 17, 2014

Niacin not recommended for high cholesterol, Wisconsin State Journal, August 14, 2014

Experts hope Robin Williams’ death spurs others to treatment, WKOW, August 12, 2014

Dean Health Plan chooses Essette's medical management software suite to expand care coordination beyond the health plan, Before it's News, August 7, 2014

Dr. Zorba Paster answers questions about Ebola, WISC-TV, August 4, 2014

Perfect lawn may be hazardous to your health, Wisconsin State Journal, July 31, 2014

Preparing kids for school year routines, NBC15, July 28, 2014

Janesville doctors seeing more hand, foot and mouth disease in local children, Janesville Gazette, July 25, 2014

Top Docs 2014, Madison Magazine, July 2014

Look for less sugar and fewer calories in your cereal bowl, Wisconsin State Journal, July 24, 2014

Area doctors report increase in hand, foot and mouth disease, WISC-TV, July 22, 2014

Dr. Zorba Paster on probiotics, WISC-TV, July 21, 2014

Raising a Buddy: Bully prevention strategies for all ages, Madison With Kids, July 2014

Time to stop worrying, Wisconsin State Journal, July 17, 2014

Gel manicures can be a risky beauty ritual, WISC-TV, July 14, 2014

Phone apps can lead to sexually transmitted disease, Wisconsin State Journal, July 10, 2014

Dr. Zorba Paster on boater safety, WISC-TV, July 7, 2014

Dr. Zorba Paster talks about Endometriosis, Wisconsin State Journal, June 26, 2014

Health officials seek to increase vaccination rates for HPV, Wisconsin Public Radio, June 20, 2014

Stay Healthy, Rock County: Explaining chest pain with Dr. Premraj Makkuni, WCLO Radio, June 19, 2014

Dr. Zorba Paster on E-Cigarettes, WISC-TV, June 16, 2014

A pain in the gums, Health Sense Special Edition, June edition

New Cholesterol Tests for Kids, Brava Magazine, June edition

Cholesterol guidelines revisitedWisconsin State Journal, June 5, 2014

Second graders start Kindness Club, WISC-TV, June 4, 2014

Be Kind, It's Contagious, WISC-TV, June 2, 2014

Meet the new CEOs of Dean Clinic and SSM Healthcare of Wisconsin, WHIT 1550 AM, June 1

More Coverage
of Dean in the News

Hear Health Tips from Dean Providers

Visit our DocTalk Podcast page for information on various health topics.

Media Contacts

If you are part of the media, we encourage you to reach out to Dean's media contacts.

Dean Listens

As we strive for improvement and the introduction of new services, your opinion and perspective help identify the things we did right, the things we need to fix, and the things you care about.

Learn about two of the many ways we listen to our patients by visiting our Dean Listens section.

Have a Flu-related Question?

Look in our Flu Updates section for the latest information from Dean!