Oh, the woes of winter cold and flu season! This reality follows a stint shuttling my 6-year-old granddaughter to and from kindergarten. I drop her off to the sounds of kids sniffling, coughing, sneezing. Pick her up, and the same crud is heard amid the rush of tiny feet on the playground.
Cold and Flu Season is Here
Nearly a dozen states are already in the throes of local flu activity, including Arizona, Texas, Nevada Utah, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Maine and Massachusetts, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And the CDC is warning that this flu season may be one of the worst. If your state isn’t on the list yet, it’s only a matter of time.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says more than a billion colds will afflict people in the U.S. alone, with children in daycare and kindergarten bringing home six to 10 colds every year.
No one has time for this stuff as we wind our way through the holidays. Here are five best practices to help keep you and your family cold- and flu-free through the season.
The CDC says the best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a flu vaccine. Certain populations, including older people, are at higher risk of getting the flu. Even so, the agency recommends everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated.
Controversy surrounds vaccines in general, and flu shots seem to bring out a chorus of opinions. If you’ve ever had a severe allergic reaction to a flu shot and certain other health issues you should not get the vaccine. Discuss with your doctor first to make sure you’ve covered all the bases. Vaccination opponents will point first to the risk of mercury exposure from thimerosal, a preservative used in most flu vaccines.
Wash Hands Frequently
Perhaps the simplest way to stay healthy is to become a fastidious hand-washer.
Every time you shake another person’s hand, open a door, push a shopping cart, use the ATM or leave the gym, take the time to wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Here’s a trick. Put sticky note reminders in your car, near the door you use most in your home, on the bathroom mirror and over the kitchen sink. You cannot wash your hands too much this time of year.
Don’t Touch Your Face
Easier said than done, but awareness of just how often we put our hands on our face is enough to reduce the habit. The NIH says cold viruses are transmitted with ease from our hands to our noses or mouths.
Also, don’t touch or use anything that a person with a cold or flu has taken a drink out of, worn, or used on their bodies, like bath towels. Be aware and try not to share this time of year.
Support Your Immune System
Go into the cold and flu season with a strong immune system. Eat healthy. Avoid getting completely exhausted and run down. Get enough sleep and consider adding foods high in Vitamin C and/or Echinacea supplements to your arsenal. Some people start taking these supplements a few weeks before the cold season hits for extra support.
Vitamin D supplements may also protect against acute respiratory infections including colds and flu, according to a study published earlier this year by Queen Mary University of London and funded by the National Institute for Health Research. Clinical trials were conducted in 14 countries, including the United States. Vitamin D, known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, is thought to protect against respiratory infections by boosting natural antibiotic-like substances in the lungs.
Now is also the time to stick to your workout routine. Regular exercise can boost your immune system substantially. According to the experts at Harvard Medical School, exercise contributes to overall good health and promotes circulation, which supports immune system strength.
The good docs at the Mayo Clinic recommend water, and lots of it, juices, clear broth, warm lemon water with honey and other soothing beverages to help keep dehydration at bay. Avoid alcohol, coffee, and other fluids that contain caffeine, because caffeine will have a dehydrating effect on the body. My personal goal is to consume a gallon of water a day, and I’m focused even more on that during the cold and flu season.