Posts Tagged ‘Flu Season’
You’ve had your flu shot, you wash your hands more often, you avoid crowded areas, and still there is no guarantee that you will escape the common cold or worse this year or any other. One reason why there is no ironclad protection against the cold is that over 200 different viruses can cause cold symptoms, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH). Most of these are relatively harmless in terms of lasting health effects, but some can lead to serious respiratory infections, especially among the elderly and the very young. Complications include bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections.
Over one billion colds are counted in the United States every year, meaning that most Americans get hit more than once throughout the season. Children are particularly prone to spreading cold viruses in schools, playgrounds and homes. But office spaces, shopping malls, restaurants, and public transportation means can be equally as hazardous.
Most common are the so-called Rhinoviruses (from the Greek word rhin, meaning “nose”), which are responsible for up to half of all colds. Over 100 different types of this strand have been identified so far, and more seem to emerge every year. Researchers believe that between 20 and 30 percent of all causes of colds remain unidentified.
The reason why there is such a thing as a cold season is not necessarily a drop in temperatures but rather human behavior. When the weather turns nasty outside, people tend to spend more time indoors and in closer proximity to one another, which gives the viruses a better chance to spread from person to person. Breathing dry, cold air may also play a role since this dries out the inside lining of the nose, making it more vulnerable to viral infections. Paradoxically, fewer people who stay physically active outdoors in the wintery weather seem to get sick than their hibernating counterparts, perhaps because exercising helps strengthen their immune system.
Boosting your natural defenses may be the most effective way to fend off cold threats. Eating lots of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources will help, as will managing stress, getting enough rest, and abstaining from smoking and alcohol/drug abuse.
If it’s already too late and you’ve come down with a cold, it is important to get you back on your feet as quickly as possible. For this, you should stay in bed and drink lots of fluids, not only to keep hydrated but also to thin mucus and ease congestion.
Warm liquids can soothe a sore throat and help you get some sleep. Fruit juices may sound right because of their vitamin C content, but be careful not to put too much sugar into your system because excessively high sugar levels can hinder white blood cells from fighting infections. Soups and stews are also a good provider of fluids. When made from scratch, a vegetable soup is a nutritional powerhouse, and it goes down more easily than solid foods.
If you take cold medications, make sure you follow instructions and don’t overdose in an attempt to speed things up. Don’t drive or operate machinery while under the influence, and don’t mix with alcohol.
Besides following these recommendations, getting enough rest and letting your body do its job is the most important measure you can take. Patience is a necessary part of the healing process and should not be overlooked.
Best of luck for this year’s 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 and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).
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.