When the Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill that guaranteed sick leave to employees at companies with more than four employees, Dr. Ari Gilmore was thrilled. “As doctors, we have a problem with people’s great work ethic, especially if they’re actively coughing,” he says. “Traditionally, people didn’t really have the option to stay home if they wanted to pay their rent on time.”
Gilmore practices family medicine at Pacific Medical Centers. As flu season approaches, he provides tips on how to stay healthy and what to do if you’ve come down with a cold.
Regular handwashing is critical, especially after being in a public place because germs can live on surfaces for a long time. “Avoid touching your face or rubbing your eyes,” he says. “Illness is also spread by small air droplets when someone coughs or sneezes.”
Exercise can also help. “There has been some evidence that regular exercise keeps the immune system up,” says Gilmore. “Also, regular exposure to sauna-type temperatures makes a difference. The elevated body temperature may decrease the activity of a virus. A couple of studies have shown it to impact mild to moderate cold symptoms. So a good day at the gym with a sauna afterward might be good preventive medicine.”
For people who work in jobs that demand high-volume contact with the public, a flu shot is the best bet. “Making sure they get their flu shot is probably the most important preventive step,” Gilmore explains. “Frequently washing hands with plain soap and water, and avoiding touching the mouth or face after dealing with money will also help.”
If you’ve contracted a cold, the best thing to do is stay home—including from your health clinic, at least for the first three days. “If you don’t have a fever, I recommend staying home for the first two or three days. A top mistake is to visit your doctor right away and infect others,” says Gilmore. “Often, we have people coming in on day two. At that point, we don’t have a whole lot of treatment to offer, and you’re just going to spread it around. If it’s been over three days, come in, and we’ll listen to the lung and make sure it hasn’t turned into pneumonia.”
On the flip side, waiting too long to see a doctor can also be problematic. “We’ve had people who’ve had a fever for five or seven days, and by the time they come in, they’re quite ill,” says Gilmore. “For most people, a temperature is going to be resolved in three days. If it’s not, have it checked out.”
The exceptions are those who are at higher risk, including anyone over 65, children under age four with a fever over 101 degrees, or those dealing with other illnesses. “For those particular populations, there are effective treatments like Tamiflu,” says Gilmore. “It’s worth talking to your doctor about.”
For more information about Pacific Medical Centers, visit www.PacMed.org or call 1.888.4PACMED.