“Don’t forget your hat! You’ll catch a cold!” We can all remember our mother or fathers reminding us to bundle up during the winter season. As the temperatures drop, the incidence of colds and flus inevitably rises, but why?
Many people believe that they can catch a cold or flu simply by being underdressed in winter, but this is not the case. The common cold and influenza (also known as “the flu”) are viral infections caused by tiny organisms. An infected person can spread these diseases through droplets in the air when he or she sneezes or coughs. While the common cold is generally a mild annoyance, influenza can be deadly, especially in the elderly and children. As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment. With a proactive approach, anyone can take steps to prevent the common cold and influenza.
Despite the myths you may have read on Facebook, Flu vaccines are safe and effective. Flu vaccines prepare your immune system for the most common strains of flu which allows your body to fight off the flu before you ever get sick. The CDC recommends annual vaccination for those aged 6 months or more.
Much misinformation surrounds the flu shot so here are a few quick myths exposed:
v The flu shot will get me sick.
- No! The flu vaccine contains a inactivated(dead) version of the influenza virus that cannot cause a case of influenza. The most common side effects of the shot are a sore arm and mild aches and pains which last for a day or two. These can be helped by taking a pain reliever such as Tylenol.
v The flu shot causes Autism.
- No! There has been absolutely no legitimate scientific research to support this idea.
Our hands are the tools with which we manipulate our world. We touch doorknobs, shake hands with others, and type on public computers. The cold and flu viruses often enter our bodies when we touch something covered in germs and then rub our eyes, nose, or mouths. Attempting to not touch things which may contain the cold or flu viruses is an exercise in futility so we must use the next best thing: hand washing. Washing one’s hands often is not only extremely simple but also the single most important method for preventing cold and flu. Following a couple easy rules will ensure you are washing your hands effectively:
v Whenever possible, wash your hands with regular soap and water. Do not fall for commercials and advertising. Antibacterial soaps have not shown any superiority over regular soap and water and can actually influence bacterial resistance. Using antibacterial alcohol-based hand sanitizer is ok when soap and water are not available.
v Many people do not wash their hands correctly. When washing hands, use warm water and enough soap to form a rich lather. Rub your hands together for at least twenty seconds and make sure you get the front and back of both hands and in between the fingers. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song to yourself twice as you wash your hands. Once you are finished you will know you are done.
v Wash your hands often. Especially:
- After using the toilet
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- After handling food
- Before you eat
- After touching garbage
- After sneezing or coughing
Follow these simple rules for hand washing and you will greatly reduce your chance of catching the cold or flu during the winter.
Build Up Your Immune System Naturally
A healthy immune system can often fight off cold and flu viruses before they are able to make you sick. Here are a couple easy steps to boost your immune system naturally.
v Eat a healthy diet.
- Food is the fuel that feeds your body. Employing a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats will ensure your body is getting the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to ramp up your immune system.
v Stay hydrated.
- Many people do not drink enough water in the winter because they do not feel as thirsty as they do during the summer when temperatures are high and the weather is humid. Water is the primary molecule making up 60% of the body. Dehydration limits every system in the body, including the immune system. Inadequate fluid intake also dries out the mucosal linings of the respiratory system which limits its ability to trap germs before they get inside your body. The Institute of Medicine recommends 3 liters a day for men and 2.2 liters a day for women.
v Get some sleep.
- Although the mechanism is not fully understood, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested that people who slept less than eight hours per night on average were nearly three times more likely to come down with the common cold.
v Supplements might help.
- Although research varies on immune-boosting supplements like zinc, Echinacea, and vitamin C, some physicians believe these supplements may help shorten the duration of colds and flus. Always talk to your physician or pharmacist before beginning a dietary supplement.
- Exercising 20-30 minutes every day invigorates the body and boosts the immune system. A simple, brisk walk around the block is enough to get some blood pumping and boost the immune system.
Illnesses during the winter season can vary from the simple common cold to dangerous influenza; however, with a few preventative measures, anyone can take simple steps to protect themselves during the cold and flu season. Protect your health and you will enjoy a wonderful winter with less chance of getting sick.