The flu season hit North America hard this year, but February is typically the month when flu really gets going in the northern hemisphere. Is there more to come?
Well—because the flu is so unpredictable, healthcare professionals really can’t forecast whether the worst is over or whether incidents of flu will increase even more in February (as they often do). Just in case the worst is yet to come, let’s see if we can help you avoid this serious illness.
As a Retired Registered Nurse, Gloria can tell you it’s really important to realize that the flu is not something to fool around with (especially this year when three strains are going around). Some patients get severely ill, some run dangerous temperatures exceeding 104o F, some are hospitalized—and there have been deaths. Overrun hospitals have actually set up Emergency Room tents in hospital parking lots to treat patients, and eleven hospitals in Chicago alone were put on bypass status (meaning patients had to bypass that hospital because it was unable to take more patients).
Healthcare professionals report that patients with the flu this year tend to be sicker than in recent years, and doctors warn about potential long term consequences from severe flu—consequences such as doubling the risk of Parkinson’s disease in later life (University of British Columbia, 2012) or developing viral pneumonia.
Taking Charge: Do the Basics
So, what to do? Well—healthcare professionals offer this advice:
- Wash your hands often. It’s crucial to wash your hands often—and especially right after you’ve had contact with someone who’s sick or as soon as you come home from public places such as a school, workplace, doctor’s office, or shopping center. To wash your hands properly, Gloria recommends removing any rings you may be wearing, washing from the wrists to the fingertips, and paying special attention to the area between the fingers and under the fingernails. The flu is caused by a virus, so plain soap is absolutely fine; antibacterial soaps do not provide additional protection against it. Liquid soap is more hygienic than bar soap and more effective than sterilizing liquids (although these liquids certainly help when you don’t have access to soap and water). Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 15 seconds. That’s about the same amount of time as it takes to sing Happy Birthday or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (perhaps silently, to yourself) while washing your hands. Once you’ve finished washing your hands with soap, sing Happy Birthday or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star again while you rinse your hands for another 15 seconds. Use a paper towel to handle faucets and door handles (especially in public places), and dry your hands with a clean towel or disposable towel. Towels physically wipe germs from your hands, so they tend to be more effective for flu control than hot air dryers, but use the best option available.
- Keep your hands away from your face. Viruses such as the flu virus enter through the nose and mouth. One thing you don’t hear very often, though, is that viruses (as well as bacteria) also enter through your eyes. Keep your hands away from your face in general and your nose, mouth, and eyes in particular. If you have a little itch on your face that needs a little scratch, use a clean handkerchief, facial tissue, or facecloth—not your fingers. When you do have to put your hands near your face (say, when you’re eating or drinking, brushing your teeth, or handling contact lenses), be sure to wash your hands first.
- Stay hydrated. Tissues in the nose and throat are your immune system’s first line of defence against the flu virus. Staying hydrated helps to keep these tissues moist, so they can protect you. Warm liquids such as hot tea with lemon help to keep throat tissues moist and also can help soothe a sore throat if you do get sick.
- Get enough sleep. Proper rest helps keep your immune system strong. Jerre has been researching sleep for our next book, and he’s come to think of sleep as a nutrient.
- Get a flu shot: Most mainstream practitioners recommend getting a flu shot. Flu vaccines have been hotly debated lately, and there are people with strong views on both sides of the “vaccinate or don’t vaccinate” argument. In a blog that goes out to so many different people, let us just say it’s not appropriate for us to comment one way or the other. Deciding whether to get vaccinated or not is a highly personal decision that you should research a little (so you know the issues) and discuss with your healthcare professional.
This is all good advice (as far as it goes), but it may not be enough. After all, this year’s flu vaccine is only about 62% effective (less for children, people over the age of 65, or those with weakened immune systems). That’s a pretty high efficacy rate for a flu shot, but it’s obviously nowhere near 100% protection.
So—what more can you do?
Taking Charge: Look After Your Immune System
Well, heeding the advice above is a good start, but we’ve noticed that every single one of the medical recommendations we’ve found have ignored proper Nutrition as an important component of maintaining a strong immune system to help protect against the flu. Let’s not forget the healing power of the human body and the nutrition that fuels that power.
Here are some Nutritional suggestions we recommend adding to the advice above:
- Use food as your medicine. This is advice from Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, and it still holds true today. Focus on fresh, whole, certified organic foods that offer maximum nutrition and minimum toxins. Jettison junk food. It puts a strain on your body—including your immune system. If you do get sick, research shows that your grandmother was right: Chicken soup really can help to soothe a sore throat or reduce other symptoms—but only if it’s real chicken soup and not merely a tablespoon of salty flavoring in a cup. See our November 15th blog Three-Step Shopping—Step 3 and our December 16 blog Soup it Up for the Holidays for easy and excellent homemade chicken broth and chicken soup recipes. If you can get them, chicken feet are especially good for the broth.
- Supplement wisely. Smart choices of food supplements can help keep your immune system strong, but be skeptical when you buy. Just because a label says a product fights the flu, doesn’t mean it actually works. Our book Eat to Save Your Life details some of the problems with poorly manufactured supplements and also provides Ten Totally Terrific Questions to ask before you buy. Supplements that can strengthen your immune system include a plant-based multi containing vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients; vitamins C and D3; probiotics; and anti-viral herbs such as garlic and Echinacea. All of these are explained more fully in our August 14 and August 21 Blogs Summertime—and the Livin’ is Sneezy, so click on the link and have a look.
- Limit sugar. Many people don’t realize that in addition to promoting dental cavities, diabetes, liver disease, and chronic inflammation, sugary foods and drinks suppress the immune system. Sugary foods and drinks should be avoided during flu season and strictly eliminated if you or someone around you is sick. Even fruit juices should be diluted 50/50 with water, so their natural sugar content is reduced. Of course, if you’re going to drink fruit juice, we recommend fresh-squeezing your own (it only takes a minute), so you don’t ingest any added sugars or high fructose corn syrup, and so you get all those luscious phytonutrients that are so easily lost through manufacturing, storing, and shipping. And remember: You don’t need to squeeze a dozen oranges. You would only eat one orange, so drink the juice from only one (and make sure to include the nutritious pulp).
- Read or re-read the previous blogs mentioned above as well as our book Eat to Save Your Life. Our book and previous blogs explain all of these nutritional recommendations more fully than we can in this single blog. If you’ve already been reading and applying what we’ve written before, you will be in a better position to ward off the flu.
We hope these combined recommendations will give you a good chance of successfully fighting the flu this year. If you do get sick, though, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Act quickly, if you do get sick: Treat symptoms immediately (the first 48 hours are crucial, especially if you need an antiviral prescription). Also be careful to reduce fever, perhaps with over-the-counter medications. Just be sure to have a chat with your healthcare professional, first.
- Get help when it’s needed. Get medical help if you experience difficulty breathing, run a high fever, become dehydrated, have trouble urinating, or feel excessively lethargic.
- Stay home. No one in your school, college, workplace, or local grocer’s wants the flu. If you’re sick, stay home and apply all these tips so you can get back on your feet soon and not spread the virus to others. After all, even if you aren’t that sick, you can spread the disease to others who can become dangerously ill.
- Continue with proper rest, hydration, and hygiene. It all helps to reduce the viral load on your body and help your immune system do its job.
- Continue with healthy nutrition—including foods and food supplements. Proper nutrition and informed supplementation will help your body recover faster and may help to reduce the possibility of complications from the flu.
We’ve been tracking the flu on-line, and we notice that the World Health Organization reports that prevalence of flu has dropped considerably in the last couple of weeks, but it’s not completely gone and some places are not so lucky. Major cities in the Province of Alberta, Canada still report widespread flu activity. Of course, healthcare professionals also are waiting to see if a “second wave” hits in the next few weeks.
Here’s to beating the bug,
Gloria and Jerre