Expert Tips for Staying Healthy and Safe This Winter

December 5, 2023 | by Jodi McCaffrey
Expert Tips for Staying Healthy and Safe This Winter

Expert Tips for Staying Healthy and Safe This Winter

In many areas of the country, colder weather brings coughs, colds, slips and strains. Even if you live in a warm location, the gatherings associated with the winter holidays can increase your risk of getting sick. Here are some tips for staying safe this season.

“During the winter months, pediatric urgent care clinics tend to get much busier than during the spring and summer months,” said William Chu, M.D., urgent care practice medical director for Pediatrix® Medical Group and a pediatrician at Pediatrix Primary + Urgent Care of Texas. “Most of our visits are for fever, cough, vomiting, sore throat or ear pain. And while we don’t see snow-related injuries here in Houston, we do see a lot of falls and sports-related injuries.”

Staying Safe in Winter Weather

To keep your family safe in colder climates, Dr. Chu recommends layers.

“Make sure kids are dressed appropriately and avoid being outside in extremely cold conditions for longer than necessary,” he said. “A good rule of thumb is that babies and young kids should wear one layer more than what is needed to keep adults comfortably warm. Add hats, scarves and gloves or mittens to help them stay warm and prevent cold-related injuries.”

In addition, when working or playing outdoors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

  • Preparing ahead of time to make sure you have all of the necessary clothing and equipment for all members of the family, including tightly woven, wind-resistant coats and waterproof boots
  • Bringing an emergency kit and a charged cell phone in case of an accident
  • Sprinkling sand, ice melt or kitty litter on icy patches to prevent slips
  • Moving slowly and taking frequent breaks while active outside

Keep an eye on older adults and babies, who are particularly sensitive to cold temperatures. Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures. This can lower the temperature of the body dangerously low. It can affect the brain, making it difficult to think clearly or move well.

The warning signs of hypothermia include:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion
  • Memory loss
  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Trouble using your hands

For babies and young children, look out for a lack of energy and bright red, cold skin.

Take the affected person’s temperature if you notice any of these signs. If it’s below 95° F, call 911 and get urgent medical attention.

‘Tis the Season for Colds and Flu

For many families, colds, flu and other respiratory viruses are common occurrences during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

“Flu and RSV are the most prevalent viruses that we are seeing in our clinics right now,” Dr. Chu said. “Although not a virus, we are also seeing many more cases of strep throat.”

The flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are similar. RSV is a virus that can cause infections in the lungs and respiratory tract. While the flu usually starts with a high fever and aches and pains, RSV mimics a cold with a fever and nasal congestion but may lead to coughing, fast breathing and wheezing.

The flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection, while flu is caused by an influenza virus. COVID-19 spreads more easily than the flu, according to the CDC.

Dr. Chu adds, “Flu and RSV can be diagnosed without laboratory testing, but COVID-19 and strep should be confirmed with a test. Viruses cause most sore throats and, therefore, don’t need antibiotics to be treated.”

Recognizing the Common Cold

As its name suggests, colds are common this time of year. There are many different viruses that can cause colds, and they are usually spread through the droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You may also get sick if you breathe in these droplets or are in close contact with an infected person, like while hugging or shaking hands or by touching a contaminated surface and then your eyes, nose or mouth.

Symptoms of a cold typically last seven days to two weeks and may include:

  • Body aches
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat

An Ounce of Prevention

Vaccination is one of the simplest ways to prevent the flu, RSV and COVID-19.

“It’s still early in the respiratory virus season, so it’s not too late to get vaccinated,” Dr. Chu explained. “The flu vaccine is generally recommended for everyone 6 months of age or older unless they have an underlying condition that may prevent it. The RSV immunization is recommended for certain groups of infants and young children, so I recommend that parents talk to their child’s pediatricians to see if it’s appropriate.”

Dr. Chu said it is safe to give children multiple vaccines at the same time. In fact, spreading out or delaying vaccines can put kids at greater risk of getting the infections you’re trying to prevent.

While the symptoms of the cold, flu, RSV and COVID-19 can differ, preventing them requires nearly the same steps. The CDC recommends:

  • Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer after touching germy surfaces
  • Staying away from people who are sick
  • Trying not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Regularly disinfecting objects and surfaces such as light switches, countertops and doorknobs regularly
  • Wearing a high-quality, well-fitting face mask if near someone who is sick or in crowded indoor settings

“To prevent serious infections, immunizations and good hand washing are key,” Dr. Chu reiterated.

Need Care? Consider Urgent Care

Urgent care clinics tend to have shorter wait times and are more cost-effective than the emergency department.

“If kids get sick, knowing where to seek medical attention is really important. Most pediatric illnesses and injuries can be treated in an urgent care clinic instead of an emergency department,” Dr. Chu said. “In general, infections that cause high fevers greater than 102 F, fevers lasting more than three days, difficulty breathing or throat or ear pain should be evaluated. Injuries that cause severe pain, immobility, significant bleeding or loss of consciousness should get immediate medical attention at the ER.”

Expanding Access to Care

Pediatrix Primary and Urgent Care of Colorado recently opened its Aurora and Lone Tree offices. A third office will open in Lakewood in early 2024.

Highlights include:

  • Convenient hours, including nights, weekends and holidays 365 days a year
  • In-house COVID-19 testing, X-rays and laboratory testing
  • Exam rooms designed to support patients’ unique needs, such as autism-friendly spaces
  • Interactive entertainment
  • Access to a wide local network of pediatric subspecialists and hospitals
  • Comfortable, all-sized patient- and parent-friendly furniture

“We treat patients from birth to 21 years of age and are usually quicker and less expensive than the ER,” said Tracy J. Butler, M.D., a pediatrician and pediatric critical care physician at Pediatrix Primary and Urgent Care of Colorado and Pediatrix Critical Care of Denver. “With our reimagined spaces, we are ready for the winter virus season.”