Although the New Year is a time of fresh beginnings, it’s also a pretty difficult time for people in regard to their health. Certain illnesses peak during the early months of the year, and this is especially worrying for more vulnerable members of society such as the elderly or children. These individuals have weaker immune systems, and therefore may suffer more should they catch even an everyday illness.
So, what are winter’s most common diseases and how can you defend against them?
The common cold
A common cold is not exactly the most threatening illness in the world, but that doesn’t mean it should be underestimated. Colds can impact people in different ways, usually resulting in a runny nose, cough, and a general feeling of being unwell. What makes the common cold more dangerous is that it can hang on for longer than a few days, and this puts people, especially young children, at risk of dehydration.[i]
The cold virus is spread through saliva, which means coughing and sneezing can easily pass the illness from person to person.
Fevers, dry coughs, aching muscles and feelings of nausea are all reliable indicators of the flu. Influenza is an annual threat, and although it won’t have any lasting damage on healthy individuals, like cold viruses, it can be bad news for those more susceptible to illnesses.
It is thought that around 600 people die per year following complications caused by influenza.[ii] Like other viral infections, flu is easily spread through coughing, sneezing and surface contact, meaning that areas of your practice, like the waiting room, are a prime place for transmission.
Bronchiolitis is characterised by nasal congestion, coughing, wheezing and low-grade fevers. Most commonly caught by very young children (those under 12 months) this viral infection can result in hospitalisation should symptoms worsen and prevent children from breathing properly.
It is estimated that as many as one third of all children will suffer from bronchiolitis before their first birthday.[iii] Although it is very common, that doesn’t mean that it’s a pleasant experience for anybody involved, and therefore protecting against this illness is still paramount.
Croup is a nasty condition that tends to affect young children. Identifiable by a ‘barking cough’, croup affects the windpipe and used to be a highly deadly disease. Thankfully, research and modern medicine means that croup is treatable at home, but if a case is particularly bad it may result in hospitalisation. Furthermore, croup may be an indicator of something worse to come, such as pneumonia.[iv]
Much like the other diseases on the list, croup is caused by a viral infection which is easily spread. It is worth noting, however, that certain vaccines may help prevent croup, including the MMR jab for measles, mumps and rubella.
One significant difference between pneumonia and many of the illnesses in the top six is that it is often caused by a bacterial infection instead of a virus. Pneumonia remains a very serious condition – there are still thousands of deaths caused by pneumonia every year in the UK – so it’s important to protect against bacteria as well as viruses in your practice.
The last of the most common winter bugs is strep throat. A nasty, uncomfortable infection that causes a very sore throat, this illness also makes its home on any surfaces touched by sufferers, including doorknobs and other furniture or items that are regularly touched. Worryingly, strep throat can lead to nasty consequences such as scarlet fever, kidney inflammation and rheumatic fever, some of which may even be fatal if improperly managed.[v]
Defend your practice
The best way to defend against the spread of these illnesses is to ensure that areas such as your waiting room are regularly disinfected with effective cleaning products. Many cleaners are capable of destroying a high percentage of pathogens and using these multiple times throughout the day is a sure-fire way to prevent these illnesses hanging around and spreading to more patients. It may also be worth introducing measures such as hand sanitisers – especially if you have things like touch-screen appointment log-in systems that are in regular use by many people. Most of these illnesses are particularly easy to keep under control with proper hand hygiene, so putting up signs with handwashing instructions in bathrooms so that patients can take the proper precautions is also a good idea.
As you can see, the most common illnesses all have one weakness – proper infection control. By implementing these changes, you can prevent these menaces making a big impact on your patients in the New Year.
[i] Moment of Science. Why Do You Become Dehydrated When Sick? Link:
https://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/dehydrated-sick/ [Last accessed September 19].
[ii] Oxford Vaccine Group. Influenza. Link: http://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/influenza-flu [Last accessed September 19].
[iii] British lung Foundation. Bronchiolitis. Link: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/bronchiolitis/causes[Last accessed September 19].
[iv] NHS Inform. Croup. Link: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/lungs-and-airways/croup[Last accessed September 19].
[v] Mayo Clinic. Strep throat. Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/strep-throat/symptoms-causes/syc-20350338 [Last accessed September 19].