Half of all Americans have the sniffles

Does it seem that half the people around you are sniffling, sneezing, wheezing, coughing and generally feeling like heck right about now?

Two weeks ago, 1,680 medical workers around the country reported that roughly 126,880,000 people -- about half the population -- had cold and flu symptoms as of Jan. 7, according to a survey by the SmithKline Beecham pharmaceutical company.


Although that's a lot of ailing folks, doctors say it is the time of year for colds.

"I am seeing a lot of people with respiratory infections of one kind or another," says Dr. James Richardson, who practices family medicine at the University of Maryland Medical System. Generally, it's colds for which people seek relief and not the flu, he says.


Dr. Karen Trent-Mims, an internist for CareFirst Free State Medical Plan, says her experience is similar.

While the cases are numerous, Dr. Andrew Marks, a family practitioner for Columbia Medical Plan, says, "This season is about average."

"There were reports early on that the Type A flu would sweep through, but that doesn't seem to have happened, at least that's not what I'm seeing here in Howard County," Dr. Marks says.

Influenza viruses are categorized as Type A or Type B. Type A is considered more severe.

Medical personnel are not required to report either colds or influenza to the state health department, says Dr. Dale Rohn, an epidemiologist with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

HTC However, the health department does try to track Type A influenza and so far has 18 confirmed cases. "That is not unusual," Dr. Rohn says.

No telling how many people are walking around with a cold.

If you've managed to stay healthy and want to keep it that way, doctors recommend old-fashioned hand washing. People may sneeze or cough, touch their faces, then pass on the virus to someone else, Dr. Richardson explains.


A balanced diet will help ward off colds, Dr. Marks says. And, says Dr. Trent-Mims, try avoiding crowds where a virus may lurk.