Avoiding a Cold & Flu This Seasonby Wes // January 19, 2013
Colds and Flu like illnesses cost billions of dollars in medical visits and missed days of work each year. Even with continuing advanced knowledge of their virulence, pathogenesis, clinical characteristics, treatment and prevention, we are pretty much left to fend for ourselves when it comes fighting off the common cold. As if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Eliaz notes:
[…] we aren’t very good at gauging our own health, often thinking we’re on the mend when we actually need more rest […] complicated by the constant need to feel productive. The viral misery is compounded by mental images of work piling up in our absence, requiring urgent attention. […] As a result, we don’t heal properly and risk spreading the virus to friends and co-workers.
Thankfully there are some things you can do to help prevent catching a cold/flu this season that doesn’t involve working a hazmat suit into your wardrobe.
1) Flu Shot – The flu shot works with your bodies immune system in order to give you resistance before being exposed to the virus. The effectiveness of the vaccine is primarily based on two things, the first is how healthy your immune system is to begin with, and the other is how accurate the scientists are in predicting the strains of the flu that will be prevalent in the upcoming season. The CDC has released a report based on the available data for the season and have estimated this years vaccine effectiveness at 62%. Although these results demonstrate the importance for continued efforts to develop more effective vaccines, it also shows that getting the vaccine this year is a great way to help avoiding the flu by cutting your chances of getting sick more than a half if you are exposed.
2) Washing your Hands – I know you have heard it 100 times, but it really is an effective way of avoiding getting sick. Most people remember to wash their hands after using the bathroom or before eating, but its important to do so after just being out in public/work. Even just washing with water is quite effective (although with soap is better) at getting those viral particles off your skin.
3) Healthy Life Style – You don’t have to be Captain Health Nut in order to give yourself an edge in staying healthy, these three little tips will give you the boost you need.
- SLEEP! Many of the hormones used to strengthen and keep the immune system healthy are replenished during sleep.
- EAT! Studies have demonstrated that eating regular meals can boost the immune system, so don’t skip meals to try and be more productive.
- BE ACTIVE! Being active has been linked to decreased stress, and stress can weaken the immune system. Active lifestyle has also been shown to increase the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
There are also a couple rumours myths about staying healthy you might have heard about, here are a couple to help you make better informed decisions.
1) Vitamin E – Short answer, Yes! Vitamin E is a useful anti-oxidant and can strengthen the immune system. On-top of that studies show it might offer an added benefit of helping prevent colds/flu.
2) Vitamin C – Short answer, Kinda? Although Vitamin C is good for you for other reasons, the average person won’t see any added benefit of loading up on Vitamin C to prevent a cold or flu. Some studies suggest an added benefit for those that “engage in strenuous outdoor activities in cold climates” as well a reduced duration of cold symptoms in the elderly but no extra preventative advantages over a placebo in the normal population.
3) Probiotic – Short answer, No! A large double blind study looking at the effect of long-term consumption of probiotic bacteria on viral respiratory tract infections (common cold, influenza) showed no effect on the incidence of common cold infections. Multiple studies have linked the beneficial bacteria lactobacilli and bifidobacteria to shortened duration of colds by 0.5-1.5 days.
- Jacobs SE, Lamson DM, St George K, Walsh TJ. Human rhinoviruses. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2013 Jan;26(1):135-62. Transplantation-Oncology Infectious Diseases Program, Division of Infectious Diseases, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA.
- Eliaz I. Cold and flu: a pound of prevention. Occup Health Saf. 2012 Nov;81(11):40, 42. Amitabha Medical Clinic & Healing Center, Sebastopol, Calif., USA.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Early estimates of seasonal influenza vaccine effectiveness – United States, january 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013 Jan 18;62:32-5
- de Vrese M, Winkler P, Rautenberg P, Harder T, Noah C, Laue C, Ott S, Hampe J, Schreiber S, Heller K, Schrezenmeir J. Probiotic bacteria reduced duration and severity but not the incidence of common cold episodes in a double blind, randomized, controlled trial. Vaccine. 2006 Nov 10;24(44-46):6670-4. Epub 2006 Jun 6. Institute of Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition, Federal Research Centre of Nutrition and Food, Hermann-Weigmann-Strasse 1, D-24103 Kiel, Germany.
Photo credit: Eneas / Foter.com / CC BY