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Officials urge caution with illnesses, medications

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The holidays are generally filled with people hunting for the perfect Christmas gift, or just the right thing to wear to a New Years Eve party.

But state and federal health officials suggest that people should also look out for their health at this time of year. Earlier this month, the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health, announced tips on how the simple act of washing hands can help reduce the chances of catching a cold, influenza, skin infections or diarrhea.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), issued a consumer update, which warned that winter time in the Northern Hemisphere is a highly active period for many respiratory illnesses, including colds and the flu.

"While contagious viruses are active year-round, fall and winter are when we're all most vulnerable to them," according to the update. "This is due in large part to people spending more time indoors with others ..."

According to the Division of Public Health, many infections -- including the common cold and the flu -- are spread through hand contact. As a result, Sandra Elizabeth Ford, acting director of the division, said, "our health is literally in our hands."

Some of the division's tips for when a person should wash his or her hands include: before eating or handing foods; after going to the bathroom; before administering treatment for a cut; after sneezing, coughing or touching animals.

To properly wash hands, the agency advises, people should wet their hands with water, apply soap and rub the hands together for at least 20 seconds, make sure every part of the hand is washed, rinse the hands thoroughly, dry them with a paper towel, and then use the towel to turn off the faucets.

"Because so many of our everyday activities involve being around other people or touching public surfaces, we have to practice good hand hygiene to safeguard against infections, such as the flu and cold," said Ford.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists some other ways to avoid getting a cold or flu on its web site. They include: Get a flu vaccination; limit exposure to sick people; eat a balanced diet; get plenty of sleep; exercise, and keep stress levels under control.

If a person already has a cold or flu, there are some actions they can take to get better more quickly. They include: Calling a doctor; keeping the mouth covered while coughing or sneezing; throwing tissues in the trash immediately after use; staying hydrated; avoiding alcohol and caffeinated drinks; knowing and understanding medicine options.

But, some of the medicines people take to treat their colds or flu can put them at risk, according to the agency, if they intend to drive a car while on medication.

There are several ways people can tell if they should not be driving anywhere, according to the FDA. These warning signs include: Drowsiness, blurred vision, dizziness, slowed movement, fainting, nausea, excitability, and an inability to focus on, or pay attention to, a single item.

People who cannot avoid driving themselves while taking medications, are urged to talk to their doctor about possible side effects beforehand, and carry a list of the medications they are taking with them, in case of emergency.

Some products which the FDA recommends being caution about, while you are taking them, include: prescription drugs used to treat anxiety; antidepressants; any product which contains codeine; some products used to treat allergies and colds; tranquilizers; sleeping pills; pain relievers; diet pills, and 'stay awake' drugs that contain stimulants, such as caffeine, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

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On the net:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov/

Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health: http://dhr.georgia.gov/