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25: If You’re Sick, Stay Home

Nov 12, 2019

Having a cold sucks. Having the flu sucks. Wash your hands. Get a flu shot. And please do not bring it to work. Dr. Justin Knox goes through his strategy of preventing and treating the cold and flu with Troy and Scot.

Episode Transcript

This content was originally created for audio. Some elements such as tone, sound effects, and music can be hard to translate to text. As such, the following is a summary of the episode and has been edited for clarity. For the full experience, we encourage you to subscribe and listen— it's more fun that way.

Common Cold 101

Having a cold is never fun. Neither is the flu. But what treatments are available for these two nasty bugs? Justin Knox is an urgent care physician assistant for University of Utah Health and he sees a lot of colds in his office.

The common cold is a viral infection that is transmitted from person to person. The virus is found in droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes and potentially as they touch things in their environment.

"It's all over," says Troy, "There's nothing you can do." In the ER Troy washes his hands all the time and even wears a face mask when interacting with some patients, but he still finds himself catching colds.

The cold is a viral infection. Viruses typically need to run their course before you feel better. There is little a physician can do to help treat the cold itself. The best a physician can do is help alleviate the symptoms.

The symptoms of a cold typically include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • Congestion
  • Sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • Low fever
  • Body aches and mild headaches

Most cold symptoms are caused by mucus. Cough, congestion, sore throat, etc. all stem from the changes in your snot while your body battles a cold.

How to Survive Your Next Cold

"It's all about mucus control," says Justin. He suggests three strategies to help you feel your best during a cold:




  • Manage the Mucus: try an over the counter decongestant or expectorants like Mucinex or Sudafed. These should help with most symptoms, including sinus pressure than can lead to headaches. If you live in a particularly dry climate, a humidifier can help keep the mucus from getting too thick.
  • Calm the Cough: over the counter cough suppressants like Robitussin work great at getting your cough under control. A frequent cough can cause or further irritate sore throats or headaches.
  • Alleviate the Aches: ibuprofen or Tylenol can help minimize the body aches and headaches that come with a viral infection.

While these treatments can go a long way in making your next cold more bearable, remember that a cold is still a virus. It can take your body up to a week to fight off the infection and start getting better.

There is no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics will not help treat a virus. And you're contagious as long as you have symptoms. Spare your coworkers, stay home from work.

Is it a Cold or the Flu?

The common cold and influenza are both viral infections that can be very contagious. It can be difficult for doctors to tell the difference between the two. Usually, flu symptoms are similar but noticeably worse than a cold. Other times, the symptoms can be quite mild. It depends on the strain of influenza that is going around that flu season.

There is a test for influenza available. However, most doctors will not use it because the flu is a condition that can be diagnosed and treated easily without waiting for test results. The Center for Disease Control's recommendations are for doctors to treat a patient with flu-like symptoms as if they did have the flu, even without a positive test.

This means that a majority of people can get treatment for their flu through a virtual visit with a doctor or even a quick phone call if you feel you've been exposed to someone with the flu.

Treatment and Prevention of the Flu

Having the flu is miserable. It's understandable that people may want some sort of cure to help them get back on their feet faster. Unfortunately, such medication doesn't really exist.

You may have heard of a drug like Tamiflu, and been led to believe it knocks out the flu fast. This antiviral medication was designed to help treat at-risk populations where an infection like the flu could be life-threatening. For young children, older adults, and immuno-compromised individuals, this drug could be a lifesaver. One of the major limitations of the treatment is that it needs to be administered within 48 hours of a person being exposed to the virus for it to be effective.

For otherwise healthy individuals that have the flu, Tamiflu will do little to treat the infection. Research has shown it may shorten the duration of symptoms by only 12 hours over a week or so the flu lasts. And those results are only seen if it was administered within the first two days of infection.

The best way to survive flu season is to prevent catching it in the first place. Influenza is a very contagious disease. In fact, flu victims can be infectious before serious symptoms even present themselves. Those individuals will continue to be contagious throughout the infection, with the most infectious time while experiencing a fever.

If you or someone you know might be coming down with the flu, stay home from work and spare the people around you from being sick.

Even more importantly, protect yourself. An annual flu shot can reduce your chances of catching influenza by 50%. Due to the constantly changing nature of the disease, there is still no 100% effective vaccine, but a fifty percent protection is better than nothing.

Dr. Knox's Megaphone Moment:

"Get your flu shot. Wash your hands."

Life Expectancies of Men Dropping Due to Deaths of Despair

According to a recent article featured on Yahoo News, life expectancies for U.S. men peaked in 2014 and have been declining since then. One major contributor: ‘deaths of despair."

These deaths of despair include drug overdose and suicide. The mortality rate for drug overdose in men within the U.S. has doubled between 2007-2017. That's twice as many men losing their lives to drugs in just a decade. In that same time period, the suicide rates for both men and women has increased by 24%.

When thinking about a population's health, it's easy to focus on eating right, exercising and avoiding disease or injury. That's not the whole picture. Mental health plays a big role in keeping people alive.

The typical signs of depression include:

  • Poor sleep
  • Poor diet
  • Loss of interest in things they once enjoyed
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt and helplessness
  • Anger
  • Thought of suicide

Remember that good health is a battle, especially when it comes to mental health. As a man, recognize that suicide and drug overdose are killing this generation. Take it seriously.

If you are having depressive feelings or extreme stress, or see these signs in others, reach out and seek help.

There is no wrong way to get help for mental health. Go to a physician, doctor, get in touch with therapist, talk to friends or family, just reach out. These interventions do make a difference. Keep working on it and keep trying and don't buy into the stigma that caring about your mental health is a weakness.

Just Going to Leave This Here

On this episode's Just Going to Leave This Here, Scot is noticing that as he's eating more vegetables, he's been getting sick less. Could it be his microbiome? And the cold weather is making Troy's early morning run a little miserable.

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