According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2017/18 flu season has been exceptional. Normally, elderly adults have the largest number of flu related hospitalizations while young children are second. This year, however, baby boomers between 50 and 64 years of age are the second most vulnerable. And, as of January 27, 37 pediatric flu related deaths have been reported. At the risk of creating an overreaction and promoting “germaphobic” behavior, if there is one time of year that diligent hygiene has merit, it is now…during flu season.
Contracting the cold or flu can make you feel run-down and under the weather for weeks. Unfortunately, your daily activities and responsibilities cannot take a sick day. The common cold and flu is most prevalent during late fall, winter and early spring. According to flufacts.com, “The influenza virus, more commonly known as the flu, is defined as a contagious respiratory infection that infects the nose, throat, and lungs. Each year approximately five to 20 percent of the population in America contracts the flu and related deaths caused by the flu virus average at 23,600.” Thankfully, there are several easy and effective preventive measures that can reduce the probability of contracting the cold and flu. These preventive measures are designed to help keep your immune system strong and healthy. A healthy immune system fights against pathogens, such as the cold and flu virus. This article will focus on the ten best ways to prevent the flu and cold this season.
The vaccine produces antibodies that protect against the cold and flu virus within two weeks after vaccination. There are currently two different types of vaccines; an “intramuscular shot,” meaning it is injected into the muscle and a nasal-spray vaccination is available for people two to 29 years of age. The traditional intramuscular vaccine has been used for decades and has been approved for use in people six months of age and older. Recently, two new intramuscular vaccines are available. A hi-dose vaccine was designed for people 65 years and older and a vaccine designed for people 18 to 64 years of age is also available. NOTE: FOR THE 2017/18 FLU SEASON: The CDC does NOT recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine. Flu vaccines have been updated to better match current viruses.
The most common way to spread the cold and flu virus is by direct contact. The virus can live on surfaces for hours and even days eagerly waiting to get picked up by the next individual.
Germs attach onto your hands and can be passed onto other public surfaces. The most effective ways to cover a sneeze are to use a tissue or your sleeve.
Exercising regularly causes an increase in your heart rate. Therefore, the heart can pump more oxygen rich blood throughout the body. Increased blood flow to the body has been proven to increase the body’s immune system and help to prevent illness.
Eating nutrient rich foods is the best way to keep your immune system strong. Phytochemicals are natural immune boosting chemicals found in plants, fruits and vegetables, specifically, dark green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits. Yogurt is also an effective way to prevent illness. Studies have shown that eating low fat yogurt regularly can reduce susceptibility to colds by 25 percent. Research also suggests that the natural bacteria found in yogurt stimulates and strengthens the immune system.
Staying hydrated is important. Water flushes your system by filtering out poisons as it replenishes your body. Dehydrated individuals feel tired and unfocused. A healthy adult requires eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day. The easiest way to determine if you are dehydrated is by the color of your urine. If it is dark yellow your body may require fluids.
Doctors recommend a full eight hours of sleep a night. The demands of your busy life sometimes make that difficult. However, during the cold and flu season, it is particularly important. If you are not well rested, your body becomes tired and “run-down,” leading to a weakened immune system and leaves you more susceptible to illness.
Statistics show that smokers are at a higher risk of contracting more frequent and severe cold and flu symptoms. This is because the toxic chemicals in smoke are seen as pathogens or foreign contaminants in the body. As a result, your immune system is working overtime. Also, smoking is proven to paralyze cilia that line your nose and lungs. The cilia, or delicate hairs, are designed to remove cold and flu viruses out of your nasal passageway before they can infect the body. Smoking a single cigarette can paralyze the cilia for up to 40 minutes.
Heavy alcohol consumption negatively affects the body and its immune system in several ways. Heavy drinkers are more prone to cold and flu illnesses because alcohol suppresses the immune system and significantly dehydrates the body.
It is important to relax and “unwind” at the end of a busy day. Relaxing lowers cortizol levels in the blood. Cortizol is a hormone released into the body’s blood stream when a person is feeling stressed or pressured. Over time, this hormone weakens the immune system. Relaxing causes interleukins, the main components of your immune system that fights against the cold and flu virus, to increase in your bloodstream. It is recommended that one makes time for at least 30 minutes of relaxation each day.
…make a special effort to clean these areas frequently
1. CELLPHONE – it is with us at ALL times; kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, office car. Bacteria loves its warm dirty surface and has been found to be 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat as E.coli, a harmful and potentially deadly bacterium has been found on it. Wash your hands often and swipe the surface with antibacterial swipes frequently.
2. TV REMOTE CONTROL – stuck between the dark and warm pillows and sofa cushions, bacteria flourish on the surface of this device which has been touched by every family member and their runny-nosed friends.
3. COMPUTER KEYBOARD – like the phone and remote, it is the most touched and dirty places in your daily routine. Wash hands and swipe surface.
4. DISH SPONGE – considered the dirtiest item in your home or office. Ring it out after each use, soak in bleach, clean in dishwasher and replace often.
5. TOOTH BRUSH HOLDER – the germs from your mouth drip from the brush onto the holder two or three times a day. Overtime, a buildup of germs becomes overwhelming and dangerous as those with illnesses share the holder with others. Dry the brush after each use and clean the holder often. During an illness, do not share the holder and start a new toothbrush after an illness.
6. MONEY - as much as we love the feel of money in our hands, studies show that the average dollar bill has 3,000 bacteria. Wash your hands after handling money.
7. OFFICE KITCHEN – not everyone in your office practices good hygiene. The sink, sponge, towels, cups, silverware, and dishes in your office area potential Petri dishes. While it is good to use reusable products, take care to clean them carefully and use wash, dry, bleach, and replace.
8. LAUNDRY – some studies show that dangerous viruses found in undergarments are able to survive the spin cycle and dryer. For those items, hot water, bleach, and long hot drying cycles are recommended.
9. PURSES/BRIEFCASES – money, food, tissues, and hundreds of hands. It goes wherever you go…bathroom, countertop, bank, and office. Clean and empty regularly.
10. ATM – countless strangers touch the ATM keypad in a public area where dirty money is handled regularly. Use antibacterial swipes and wash hands.
Sources: www.flufacts.com; www.webmd.com; www.lifescript.com; www.cdc.gov
Guest Contributor: Paul Mackarey, Jr. DPT, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy.
Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” Every Monday in The Scranton Times-Tribune.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice in downtown Scranton, PA and is an associate clinical professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.