With flu season upon us, we’re all looking for ways to stay healthy. This year, many of us are particularly worried because of the H1N1 swine flu. It’s hard to know which information is simply media hype, and which information is based on fact and can be trusted. I offer the following tips to help you navigate the flu season with your health, and your sanity, intact.
Vaccinate or Not?
First of all, don’t panic, no matter what the media tells you. Humanity has dealt with the flu for thousands of years. Flu viruses change from season to season, and while a flu vaccine may be necessary and even effective for some people, keep in mind that this season’s flu vaccine is based on last year’s virus and may not offer complete protection. Additionally, the new H1N1 vaccine was brought to market much faster than vaccines of the past, and there is, as of yet, no information on potential long term side effects. The decision on whether to get vaccinated should be an individual decision and take your health history as well as your risk of exposure into consideration. While your physician should always be your ultimate source for health information, keep in mind that not all physicians take a holistic view when it comes to preventive health care. Do your homework, and get educated.
Common sense precautions against the flu have not changed over the years. Frequent hand washing is still the best precautionary measure against the flu as well as colds. But don’t waste your money on antimicrobial and antibacterial soaps – they don’t work against viruses and provide no added value over soap and water. In fact, they may contribute to the spread of resistant bacteria. Don’t touch your face unless you’ve just washed your hands – that’s a direct route for viruses to get into your respiratory tract. So far, the common wisdom is that the H1N1 virus is airborne, so listen to what you mother taught you: cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and throw the used tissues away – don’t leave them for someone else to deal with.
Boost your Immune System
- Take a good multi-vitamin. Do your research and make sure the brand you take has good bio-availability. Most grocery store brands do not meet this requirement.
- Take extra vitamin C. I regularly take 1000mg a day, and I double or triple this when I’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.
- Sip warm fluids. Sipping hot tea can make your mouth unfriendly to microbes and reduces your risk of getting sick even after you’ve been exposed. Gargling with warm salt water can have the same effect.
Use a Neti Pot (nasal saline rinse) regularly to flush your sinuses before microbes have a chance to get a hold in your system.
- Avoid inflammation promoters such as sugar, alcohol and tobacco.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels. Generally, the more optimal your vitamin D levels, the less your chances of getting the flu or a cold. Ideally, you should have your vitamin D levels tested, but if you live in the Northern hemisphere and don’t want to pursue testing, experts feel that it’s safe to take at least 1000-2000 IU’s of vitamin D during the winter months.
- Support your intestinal flora with probiotics. It may seem odd that your intestinal tract’s health has anything to do with flu and cold prevention, but most inflammation begins in the gut, which in turn, affects your immune system.
- Get enough sleep. This is one of the best ways to keep your immune system rested and healthy.
- Exercise regularly. Better yet, exercise outside.
- Listen to your body. We all get early warning signs when we’re about to catch a cold or come down with the flu. For some, it may be a tickle in the throat, for others, a mild stomach ache, nausea, or simple that “just ain’t right” feeling. Gargle with warm salt water, use your Neti pot, increase your vitamin C and D supplementation, and get some rest. Sometimes something as simple as slowing down can boost our immune system enough to ward off a cold or the flu in the early stages.
- Maintain a positive attitude. If you constantly worry about getting sick, chances are, you will get sick. Picture yourself healthy with a strong immune system, and don’t stay glued to the news reports of flu outbreaks and pandemics.
H1N1 and Your Pets
Most pet owners are worried about whether their pets can contract the H1N1 swine flu. Since this is an evolving story, it’s not possible at this stage to have a yes or no answer to this question. So far, there have been reports of ferrets and birds as well as several cats who contracted the virus. It’s important to know that in all the cases of the cats, the virus was transmitted from humans in the households who were sick with the virus to the cats, and not the other way around. There has been one report of a dog being infected with H1N1 in China. It appears as though in this case, too, the virus was passed from human to dog and not the other way around.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) maintains an information page on their website with the most recent information on H1N1 and how it affects pets.
Until we know more about how H1N1 affects pet, take the same common sense precautions you would with a human family member if you do get sick: follow proper hygiene and sanitation measures to prevent the spread of the disease. Try to isolate the sick family member from others as much as possible, wash your hands frequently and wipe down common surfaces with a good cleaner or sanitizer.
I hope these common sense precautions put your mind at ease and help protect you and your family members, both human and furry, from flu and cold viruses.