Thanks to cozy sweaters, changing leaves, and football games galore, everyone’s excited about fall. But then, just as you’ve hit your seasonal stride, you’re knocked down quicker than you can say pumpkin spice latte. Crap — you’re sick. There’s not much you can do but ride out the storm, from one snotty sneeze to the next. And short of wearing a full-on hazmat suit to the office, germs are some powerful little suckers. Even if Susan in the cubicle next to you doesn’t seem sick, she very well may be infected. Since it’s that time of year again, here are three contagious viruses to be aware of right now.
Ick. You know it well. The disgusting, can’t-keep-your-food-down, can’t-make-it-out-of-bed illness that is the stomach flu. Frequent vomiting and bouts on the toilet are all part of the package when you’re battling a nasty case of norovirus. This illness, which causes inflammation of the stomach and/or intestines (aka acute gastroenteritis), is highly contagious, and symptoms typically develop 12 to 48 hours after being exposed. In addition to the obvious inconveniences, symptoms include nausea, stomach pain, fever, and body aches.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 19 million to 21 million people are infected with norovirus in the U.S. each year. And although people can get norovirus any time of year, it’s most common during the winter months. Furthermore, seeing as outbreaks are common in institutional settings, including schools and college campuses, it stands to reason the illness starts becoming prominent now that kids are back in school
It can be confusing when people talk about the flu. Are they referring to the stomach flu, or just the flu (influenza)? It’s important to know that, even though the term flu is often used to broadly describe a sickness, the same symptoms and preventative care do not apply to both types.
As mentioned, people often lovingly refer to norovirus as stomach flu, but influenza is an upper respiratory infection. Flu symptoms include sore throat, chills, body aches, and coughing. According to the CDC, influenza begins to show up in October. Another important distinction between the two types is how to avoid them. The flu shot is a vaccine for influenza, and does not protect you against the stomach flu. For that, you’ll have to rely on your good hygiene.
3. Ear infection
Although ear infections are more common among young children (narrower and more horizontal tubes in their ears make it more difficult for fluid to drain), adults can get ear infections if their tubes didn’t grow quite right, or during certain times of year. According to Mayo Clinic, seasonal factors can put people at risk, and infections are most common during fall and winter, when colds and flu are also prevalent. Additionally, seasonal allergies can increase a person’s risk.
You already know, as sure as the leaves will fall from the trees, there’s a chance you’ll get some sort of bug around this time of year. And, while Mayo Clinic says an ear infection is caused by a bacterium or virus in the middle ear, it “often results from another [contagious] illness — cold, flu or allergy — that causes congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes.” Symptoms for adults include ear pain, drainage of fluid from the ear, and difficulty hearing.
So, you could be terrified enough to stay holed up in your house for the next five months, but that’s no fun. Instead, try dodging sickness with these six healthy habits.