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Sick of feeling sick?
Jan. 21, 2013
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Prevention and remedies old and new

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

DELANO, MN – Although it’s not always possible to avoid illness, local health professionals say prevention can go a long way.

“Delano Elementary School has been using Glo Germ to teach good hand washing technique,” district nurse Jane Larter said. For the training, students touch the Glo Germ oil, and look at the “germs” under a black light. They then wash their hands, and re-examine under the black light.

“If they haven’t washed their hands well, they can see where they would have missed the germs,” Larter said. 

“It’s basic infection control,” said Traci Brakefield, director of nursing at St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted. “We remind people about proper hand washing, and we encourage visitors not to come if they’re running a temperature or coughing.”

At St. Mary’s, residents who get sick stay in their room for seven days.

“In the past couple years it hasn’t been an issue, but this year, we’ve already isolated quite a few people,” Brakefield said.

“There are a lot of things you can do to stay healthier. Proper hand hygiene is the number-one way people can prevent transmitting the flu, but all it takes is one person breaking the chain,” said Jolie Holland, who serves as nurse for District 2687 (Humphrey Elementary, Winsted Elementary, Holy Trinity School, St. James Lutheran School, Students Transitioning in Educational Programming (STEP), and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted middle and high school).

Holland also recommends keeping hands away from the face, changing hand towels regularly, and using paper towels to turn off faucets and open doors.

Generalized symptoms
In the schools she serves, Holland has seen “a lot of generalized symptoms” lately, such as stomachaches, headaches, and sore throats, but only a limited number of influenza-like illnesses.

“Influenza is not what most people think,” she said. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, influenza symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, stuffed-up nose, and body aches.

Students at Dassel-Cokato School District have also had a variety of symptoms this winter.

“We do have a lot of absences, some certainly related to the flu,” school nurse Annette Bohnsack said.

Schools typically have a policy in which students with fevers of over 100 degrees need to stay home for 24 hours after the fever breaks.

Water for washing and drinking
Staying hydrated is crucial when suffering from a fever, according to Holland.

“When students come in here [to the nurse’s office], we give them a bottle of water to reinforce that,” she said.

“That’s where home remedies like chicken soup come in – anything fluid based, like juice or water,” Bohnsack said.

At the Delano School District, Larter said several students have been absent each week, but influenza numbers have been low.

“Parents are very informed, and that really helps to prevent the spread,” she said.

Keeping students home when they’re sick is one way to limit exposure to others.

“We don’t want to keep kids home unnecessarily, but it’s not just you you’re affecting when you’re sick,” Holland said, explaining that some students in District 2687 have compromised immune systems.

Flu shot
According to health experts, the flu shot is an effective way to lessen the number of overall flu cases.

“We had a flu clinic in October, and over 100 staff participated,” Larter said of the Delano School District. “Our community clinic was also well attended.”

At St. Mary’s Care Center, a free flu shot is offered to all residents and employees.

“About 95 percent of our long-term population gets the vaccine,” Brakefield said. “It does help.”

Home remedies
Whether it’s wrapping a slice of soggy bread on an infection or treating colds with brandy and hot tea, local people have no shortage of creative ways to alleviate symptoms of sickness.

“My mother used to make mustard plaster,” said Elanore Cafferty, a resident of St. Mary’s Care Center in Winsted. “I don’t know what was in it, but she’d plaster me all up and lay a hot towel over it.”

According to an article from the Metropolitan News Company, mustard plasters were primarily used on the chest to counteract congestion, and typically contained ground mustard, flour, and an egg white.

To cure diarrhea, retired Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School English teacher Charlie Bush said his family drank boiled milk with pepper.

Milk was also an ingredient for drawing out infections.

“We would put sugar on a piece of bread, and dip it in boiled milk. Then, we’d wrap the bread on the infection with gauze,” Bush recalled.

Known as a “bread and milk poultice,” this treatment has many variations, according to the Kanabec History Center in Mora. A few other old remedies the history center noted included skunk oil for colds, ginger tea for upset stomachs, clove oil for toothaches, and wrapping sliced raw potatoes on the forehead for headaches.

The “medicinal” properties of alcohol have been widely utilized through the years, especially during the Prohibition era. In the Cokato Museum’s pharmacy display, one of the bottles sold during Prohibition lists an alcohol content of “not over 22 percent.”

“It’s called California Padres Elixer, and you’re supposed to take one or two measured glassfuls before or after meals,” Museum Director Mike Worcester said.

The label calls it a “valuable reconstructive tonic for use in general run down condition of the body” and an “appetizer and blood stimulative” that “relieves fatigue.”

A modern-day medicine that contains alcohol (as an inactive ingredient) is NyQuil, made by Vicks. The same company also produces VapoRub, another popular remedy for cold and flu symptoms.

“We used Vicks by the jarful,” St. Mary’s resident Blanche Breidenbach recalled.

Cafferty said her family would even place VapoRub on their temples and bottoms of their feet when they felt ill.

The women also remember homemade chicken soup and homemade cough syrup (hot tea, honey, and lemon juice).

“The only time you saw a doctor was when you were really sick,” Breidenbach said. “And then, the doctor came to your house.”

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