Cold and Flu – Part II: Get Protected, Not Infected

Suggested Citation: Garko, M. G. (2014, October).  Cold and flu – Part II: Get protected, not infected. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.  

Cold and Flu – Part II: Get Protected, Not Infected

 Michael Garko, Ph.D.

Syndicated Host & Producer of Let’s Talk Nutrition

 

Introduction Cold and flu season for 2014-2015 is officially here. How likely are you to become infected with a cold or flu virus this year and experience the range of uncomfortable symptoms, which can cause people to become bedridden or even hospitalized? Are you fully prepared and protected or are you complacent and a candidate to get sick? Being unprepared is bad enough. As it turns out, back-to-school (timed exactly with cold season) and the stress-filled holidays (timed exactly with both cold and flu season) can increase your chances of getting infected and sick with a cold or flu.   While most people who become infected with a seasonal cold or flu virus can experience uncomfortable symptoms, they will not require medical care or hospitalization and will be on the road to recovery within less than two weeks. Even at that though, being sick for 10 days or two weeks can be a miserable experience, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the extent to which the body’s immune system is unable to attack and deactivate the invading and infectious cold or flu virus. So what is a person to do?   So as to reduce the risk of getting infected with a cold and flu virus this year, the October, 2014, issue of Health and Wellness Monthly, identifies those who are at higher risk for becoming infected and developing complications associated with a cold or flu virus and discusses flu vaccine and antiviral drugs and a constellation of risk-reducing health behaviors to be better protected, notwithstanding the fact there is no cure for the cold and flu, natural or otherwise.   Those At Higher Risk For Developing Complications While most people who become infected with a seasonal cold or flu virus will experience uncomfortable symptoms, they will not require medical care and attention and will be on the road to recovery within less than two weeks. However, there are other individuals who are at higher risk for developing complications (e.g., pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections and dehydration) requiring them to be hospitalized, especially when suffering from seasonal flu.  Furthermore, seasonal cold and flu can exacerbate or otherwise worsen chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes (see Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014).   Based on epidemiological studies of seasonal influenza or 2009 H1N1, individuals who are at a higher risk for influenza-related complications, include:

  • Children aged <5 years (especially those aged <2 years)
  • Adults aged ≥65 years
  • Persons with chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovas­cular (except hypertension alone), renal, hepatic, hematologic (including sickle cell disease), metabolic disorders (including dia­betes mellitus) or neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury)
  • Persons with immunosuppression, including that caused by medications or by HIV infection
  • Women who are pregnant or postpartum (within 2 weeks after delivery)
  • Persons aged ≤18 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives
  • Persons who are morbidly obese (i.e., BMI ≥40)
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011, p. 2)

Flu Vaccine and Antiviral Drugs While there are more than a few health experts and practitioners and everyday people who would disagree, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2014) contends that “the single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year” (p.1) and recommends the use of flu antiviral drugs, which are used to help treat and prevent the flu. The CDC (2014) provides the following specific recommendation and information on a getting a flu vaccine:   CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/index.htm) for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the main flu viruses that research suggests will cause the most illness during the upcoming flu season. People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, ideally by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins (p. 1). Without getting into the sometimes heated debate about vaccines and antiviral drugs, suffice it to say that there are some who would disagree with the CDC, especially those who favor a more natural medicine approach to health. In my view, if after a person becomes informed fully about these particular methods of prevention and treatment and is comfortable in using them, then he/she might want to get vaccinated and use antiviral drugs, along with more natural methods to help prevent becoming infected with a cold or flu virus and assist the body in healing itself once infected.   Practice Good Health Habits Beyond vaccinations and flu antiviral drugs, there are some excellent and effective health habits to help prevent seasonal cold and flu.   Hygiene Habits The following are frequently mentioned hygiene habits, which by the way the CDC (2009) endorses:

  • Avoid close contact with others who are sick because cold and flu/Influenza are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by viruses infecting the sinuses, throat or lungs.
  • Stay at home and away from others when infected with a cold or flu virus.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing so as not to spread the germs.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially when coming in contact with infected people and places.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose or mouth, especially after coming in direct contact with infectious secretions by touching contaminated environmental surfaces such as telephones, door knobs, hand rails, table tops and clothing.

Lifestyle and Dietary Habits Since there is no cure for the common cold or flu, the best defense against contracting the common cold or flu is to practice prevention. A key way to prevent colds and flu is to keep the immune system healthy. The immune system protects the body against viral invasions and infections so long as certain lifestyle and nutritional habits are practice to keep it vital, vigilant and virulent against cold and flu viruses, which are virulent themselves.   In terms of lifestyle, it is important to avoid the excessive intake of stimulants (tobacco & coffee) and suppressants (alcohol), stay physically active (i.e., exercise on a regular basis at least 30 minutes a day), manage stress and be sure to get plenty of rest and sleep. Nutritionally speaking, eat a diet abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fiber, nuts, seeds and legumes. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. Finally, augment your daily diet with nutritional supplements. An effective basic supplement protocol during cold and flu season would include: Multiple vitamin and mineral, fish oil (especially cod liver oil), greens product, pre- and probiotics, immune modulator (if not sick) and immune booster (if sick). If your digestive health is not optimal, taking digestive enzymes and a fiber supplement, along with the pre- and probiotics would be helpful in digesting your food and absorbing its nutrients into your blood stream so as to keep your nutritional and immune status optimal during cold and flu season.   Conclusion Cold and flu season is about to hit. The best prescription to combat cold and flu viruses is to practice good health habits and know whether you are at risk for cold- and flu-related complications. Whether or not to use flu vaccines and antiviral drugs is a personal choice and one based on being informed about these pharmaceutical treatments. The hygiene, lifestyle and nutritional habits and recover   All of the hygiene, lifestyle and nutritional habits presented above are intended to help you increase your chances of staying healthy during the cold and flu season, keep your immune system healthy and vital, decrease your chances of becoming infected with a cold or flu virus and help recover sooner without medical complications and severe symptoms.   References Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Preventing the flu: Good health habits can help stop germs. Retrieved August, 1, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Antiviral agents for the treatment and chemoprophylaxis of influenza: Recommendations of the advisory committee on immunization practices (ACIP). Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 60(1), 1-25. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). What you should know for the 2014-2015 influenza season. Retrieved September 15, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2014-2015.htm.   Suggested Citation: Garko, M. G. (2014, September).  Cold and flu – Part II: Get protected, not infected. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.