Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

  • Comments

Navigating the Flu Season

December 1st, 2012 at Sat, 1st, 2012 at 6:36 pm by timigustafson

While most of us are out and about doing our gift shopping, attending parties, going on vacations or visiting loved ones, we are also increasingly at risk of falling prey to the countless health hazards we encounter in public places – most commonly a cold or the flu. Against widespread opinion, foul weather and cold temperatures have little to do with our heightened chances of catching something this time of the year. It’s rather our being in crowded places like shopping malls, restaurants and airports that causes our undoing.

The flu season starts in October and lasts through April, which happens to coincide with the school year rather than changes in temperature, said Dr. Jon Abramson, a specialist in infectious disease at Wake Forest Baptist Health, North Carolina, in an interview with ABC News/Health. He points to studies that have shown how the flu spreads mostly from school-age children who are in close physical contact with one another and who subsequently pass it on to adults. That can happen in any climate zone, including where it’s warm all year round.

That’s also one of the reasons why shopping malls rank among the germiest public places anywhere. It’s not just the restrooms you should be weary of, it’s also the food court tables, door handles, escalator handrails, checkout counters – and especially toys. “All those sniffling tots inside toy stores […] who just like to put everything in their mouths, can leave invisible coatings of germs behind – not to mention what they spew into the air when they sneeze or cough,” said Jane E. Allen, a health writer for ABC.

Of course, adults disseminate bacteria and viruses just as much. “The great hazard is being that close to so many people and being in everyone’s breathing space,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, to ABC. He recommends washing hands often and especially before touching food. “We live in a world that’s not sterile, but what we’d like to do is to be hygienic,” he added. Better than using soap from dispensers in public bathroom are hand sanitizers you can carry with you.

Getting vaccinated against the flu and other contagious diseases such as whooping cough is certainly advisable, although there is no guarantee that you will escape the entire flu season unscathed. Studies found that flu shots are effective only about 60 percent of the time, but are still considered the best defense we have available today. The reason for the mixed success rate is that there are literally hundreds of strains of the flu virus. Vaccines offered to the public are geared towards the most common types that are in seasonal circulation. And those change constantly, making a catch-all approach impossible. Also, even after vaccination, the body needs some time to build-up enough antibodies to fend off infections, which can take several weeks. Sometimes, it can then already be too late.

Besides frequent hand washing, health experts also recommend adherence to a highly nutritious diet, exercise and sufficient amounts of sleep to strengthen the immune system. It is also important not to get too paranoid in our efforts to stay healthy. Ultimately, we can only do so much to protect ourselves and stay functional at the same time.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Surviving the Travel Season

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

About Timi Gustafson, R.D. As a clinical dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and, as of late, blogger, she has been able to reach millions of people, addressing their concerns about issues of health, lifestyle and nutrition. As Co-founder and Director of Nutrition Services for Cyberdiet.com (now Mediconsult.com), she created the first nutrition-related interactive website on the Internet in 1995. Many of the features you find on her blog, www.timigustafson.com, are based on the pioneering work of those days. Today, her goals remain the same: Helping people to achieve optimal health of body and mind. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from San José State University in California and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. She is a registered dietitian and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Dietitians in Business and Communications, Healthy Aging, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Groups. For more information about Timi Gustafson R.D. please visit: www.timigustafson.com

More articles by  >
ABOUT COMMUNITY BLOGS: Community blogs are written by volunteers. They are members of our community but not employees of this site or newspaper. They have applied or were invited to blog here but their words are their own and are not edited by the editor or staff of this site, and have agreed to abide by our Terms of Use. The authors are solely responsible for their content. If you have concerns about something you read on a community blog, please contact the author directly or email us.

COMMENTING RULES: We encourage an open exchange of ideas in the PNWLocalNews.com community, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. In a nutshell, don't say anything you wouldn't want your mother to read.

So keep your comments:

  • Civil
  • Smart
  • On-topic
  • Free of profanity

We ask that all participants own their words by logging in with their Facebook account. It's a simple process that will take seconds and helps keep our comments free of trolls, cranks, and “drive-by” commenters. We reserve the right to remove comments from anyone using screen names, pseudonyms or false identities. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.