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Ric Latarski - Batten down the hatches: It's flu season

Consider this a public service message.

We are just now getting the first jolt of cold, wet weather, which always seems to happen around Thanksgiving. This is a good time of the year for such weather because it makes it feel like the holidays.

I enjoy cold weather from now until New Year's Day, after which it needs to leave and go bother someone up north. I consider a proper Southern winter to be full of days with little wind and the temperature bumping 60.

There is no greater joy in January that calling my friend who lives outside of Chicago and casually telling him that I played golf the day before wearing no more than a light sweater. It's not always like this, but it should be.

Nevertheless, it is the cool, damp weather of the holidays that also ushers in what is the real start of what everyone calls the cold and flu season.

Couple nasty weather with all the running around we do in connection with the holiday season that leaves us exhausted and it is easy to end up feeling aches and chills.

I don't worry too much about a cold. I take a daily dose of Vitamin-C and while the scientists can argue all they want, all I know is that the years I take it regularly I either don't get a cold or it is a mild one.

I also figure no self-respecting cold germ can live in an alcohol environment, which is rationale for certain holiday behaviors.

The flu, however, is another matter. For years I though the flu was just a really bad cold, but rest assured that is not the case. The "flu" is short for influenza, which can turn into pneumonia, and it can kill you.

In World War I as many American soldiers died from influenza as did on the battlefield. It is serious stuff.

In years past I seldom took a flu shot, and the one time I had the flu I didn't know it was the flu but did know that I felt increasing miserable with each passing day. When you ache from the roof of your mouth to the top of your feet, you can figure it is more than a cold.

When I finally went to the doctor, the first words out of his mouth were, "Well, it hasn't turned into pneumonia just yet." Boy, that will sober you up.

For the next two weeks I went from the bed to the sofa to the bed. People who tell you they have the flu but they went on to work or continued to do their business as usually do not have the flu. When you have the flu, all you want to do is nothing and try not to die doing it.

It was during this period that I grew my beard. I felt so lousy that to try and shave would have been a life-threatening maneuver. A girl I was keeping company with at the time said she liked me with a beard, so when I returned to the living, I kept it.

The girl is long gone but the beard has remained and upon reflection I believe she was telling me that the more of my face I covered up, the better off I would be.

Now everyone is encouraged to get a flu shot, especially if you are in what is known as the "at risk" group.

I went to the local health department to get my flu shot because I always get one now and was stunned to discover I have reached the point where I am in the "at risk" group. I never considered myself to be "at risk," at least not when it comes to the flu.

In my particular case, it has nothing to do with possible pregnancy or some debilitating health condition but rather because of a certain age. I suppose if you live long enough you eventually become "at risk" for everything, up to and including death.

Nevertheless, getting a flu shot is a small inconvenience and is something you should put on your list of things to do. Not only is this good for you but all those around you.

For reasons that elude me, some people will continue going to work even when they are coughing, sneezing, blowing their nose every 30 seconds and are on the verge of upchuck sick. It is better to stay home, get well and not spread your ailment.

We can hope for a mild but wet winter. This would help our water woes but it would also mean a lot of chilly, miserable days that end with one curling up on the sofa under an afghan monitoring The Weather Channel and cursing when they report the temperatures in Hawaii.

So get your flu shot and if bad fate befalls you, go to the doctor and stay home until it has passed. This is better for you and everyone else.

Here ends the message.