Health & Medicine

Germs have gone back to school, too

Merrille Stevens, CBhealth
Merrille Stevens, CBhealth Submitted

As students and staff gather for a new school year, they bring along unwelcome guests — germs.

When their child starts to sniffle, parents might lament, "I told him not to go out without a jacket." Sick adults might wonder, "I don't know how I got this."

But every new year brings the same old answer.

Colds and other illnesses are caused by germs transmitted by small droplets. These droplets travel in secretions from the sick person's body to surfaces, such as door handles. When another person touches any surface contaminated with these secretions, the illness can be transferred to that person, making it possible to pick up these germs almost anywhere.

Germs shared in schools can cause a variety of illnesses and symptoms. Many times these symptoms involve a sore throat, nasal congestion and cough. People also experience pressure changes in the head that manifest as sinus pressure and ear fullness.

A health care provider might call this illness an upper respiratory infection, but most people call this a common cold. However, the term "common cold" can be misleading. "Common" does not equal mild. Many colds last seven to 14 days, and make people feel sick and fatigued and sometimes cause a low-grade fever and chills.

The "common" cold is often misunderstood. A frequent misconception is that facial pain and pressure with green drainage is a sinus infection. A sinus infection might follow a cold. But new guidelines published by the Infectious Diseases Society of America define a sinus infection as nasal congestion and sinus pain lasting 10 days or more. This is often followed by a short period of slight improvement followed by a "re-sickening" period when bacteria form in the sinus cavities.

Most colds, coughs and sore throats are caused by viruses and do not require antibiotics. There are exceptions, such as strep throat. Too many prescribed antibiotics have caused problems with antibiotic resistance, sometimes described as "super germs."

If you or your child experiences symptoms of an illness, seek the attention of a health care provider for appropriate treatment.