Monday Medical: Stay healthy this winter

Mary Gay Broderick
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

A drop in temperature unfortunately coincides with a rise of viral-borne illnesses and winter-related injuries. But there are ways to keep yourself safe and healthy.

“A lot of it is prevention,” said Sue Golden, physician assistant at UCHealth Urgent Care in Steamboat Springs. “On the mountain, ski and ride in control and within your ability. Wear protective gear and be aware of your surroundings. Slow down when the roads are icy. When it comes to winter illnesses, if a vaccine is available, I would recommend getting it now. Always wash your hands, and wear a mask if feeling under the weather or if there is an uptick of flu or COVID-19 in your community.”

Flu season came early this year

Health professionals have already seen an increase in several viral illnesses, likely because fewer people are wearing masks. Golden said she expects the numbers of patients with illnesses to increase with the influx of travelers who come to town during the next few months. Upcoming holiday travel and gatherings among family and friends will likely drive those numbers up as well.

“These viruses are very opportunistic,” she said, “and they’re changing and evolving very quickly.”

Golden has seen an influx of influenza, RSV and COVID — “they’re rampant right now,” she said. “It is not too late to get a flu shot, or a COVID booster. It’s a simple step that can really help protect you from serious illness.”

She reminds people to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines if they test positive for COVID, which includes staying home and self-isolating.

“I’m hoping our COVID cases won’t be as high this season as last,” she said. “We’re seeing more people getting the booster.”

Other viruses she expects to see in the coming months include croup, which affects infants and children and has the tell-tale seal-like “bark” that usually comes at night. She also anticipates an uptick in gastrointestinal afflictions that typically run their course after 24 to 48 hours.

A more alarming illness Steamboat is seeing along with the rest of the country is an escalation of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, among young children and adults. Most people recover from RSV in a week or so, but it can be particularly dangerous for young children, especially newborns, infants and immunocompromised people as it can cause severe breathing difficulties.

“If you notice your child having difficulty breathing, get medical attention immediately,” said Golden.

Be smart when it comes to snow and sports

Snow brings winter sport enthusiasts to the renowned slopes of Steamboat, but it also brings breaks, scrapes, trips and slips.

“Winter injuries are definitely related to snow sports,” Golden said. “We see the most from skiing, whether it is downhill, back country and cross country, as well as snowboarding.”

The most common skiing and snowboarding injuries occur to the knee, shoulder, wrist and thumb, she said, as well as the head.

“A lot depends upon snow conditions and how crowded the trails are,” said Golden.

The best offense is a good defense when it comes to preventing accidents on the mountain. According to Golden, the No. 1 factor that can prevent a serious mishap is wearing a helmet, in addition to other protective gear. She advises never skiing or riding under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

When you’re off the slopes, Golden recommends that people wear non-skid boots outside, and to make sure paths are well lit and clear of obstacles.

“Know your surroundings and be aware of snow and ice hazards,” she said. “Anyone can slip and hurt themselves. The ice doesn’t discriminate.”

During winter months, Golden sees an increase in the number of wrist fractures and hip and ankle injuries from falls on slippery surfaces, especially parking lots.

“We want everyone to enjoy the wonderful activities that Steamboat has to offer in the winter,” Golden said. “We just want people to be safe doing them.”

Mary Gay Broderick writes for UCHealth. She can be reached at

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