Cold and Flu Season 2010 – 2011: Reducing
The Risk of Becoming Sick
Michael G. Garko, Ph.D.
On August 10, 2010, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, declared that “The world is no longer in phase 6 of influenza pandemic alert. We are now moving into the post-pandemic period. The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course” (World Health Organization, 2010, p. 1).
While this is good news, the WHO also gave the following warning: “As we enter the post-pandemic period, this does not mean that the H1N1 virus has gone away. Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behaviour of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come (World Health Organization, 2010, p. 1).
More immediately, the cold and flu season for 2010 – 2011 is upon us. In the United States and Northern hemisphere, winter is the time of year for flu season. However, flu season can begin as early as October, peaks in January or later and can last until March (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009b). Cold season begins a little earlier than the flu season during late August, early September and lasts until March or April.
The September 2010, issue of Health and Wellbeing Monthly focuses on people who are at high risk for developing complications when infected with a cold or flu/influenza virus, the CDC’s recommendations regarding flu vaccines and antiviral drugs as treatments.
People At High 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 & 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, 2010a).
According to the CDC (2010a), children who are younger than five years of age and particularly children who are younger than two years of age, adults who are 65 years of age and older and pregnant women are groups of people who are at high risk of developing complications, especially when infected with the flu virus. The CDC (2010a) also identifies several specific medical conditions which put people at higher risk for complications. The CDC’s list of risk-related medical conditions is as follows:
• Neurological and neurodevelopmental 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].
• Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
• Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
• Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
• Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
• Kidney disorders
• Liver disorders
• Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
• Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
• People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
• People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
• People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index, or BMI, of 40 or greater) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010a, p. 1).
Flu Vaccine and Antiviral Drugs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2009) 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 (2010) provides the following specific recommendation and information on a getting a flu vaccine:
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine as soon as vaccine is available this fall. While flu is unpredictable, it’s likely that 2009 H1N1 viruses and regular seasonal viruses will cause illness in the U.S. this flu season. The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season (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 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.
The following are frequently mentioned hygiene habits, which by the way the CDC (2009a) 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 Nutritional 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.
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.
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.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010a). People at high risk for developing flu-related complications. Retrieved August, 15, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009a). 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 (2010b). Seasonal influenza (flu). Retrieved August, 15, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009b). The flu season.
World Health Organization (2010). H1N1 in post-pandemic period. Retrieved on August 10, 2010, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2010/h1n1_vpc_20100810/en/index.html
Citation Recommendation: If you need to cite Dr. Garko’s article in your essay, paper or report using the American Psychological Association (APA) format, the citation would be as follows: Garko, M.G. (2010, August). Cold and flu season 2010 – 2011: Reducing the risk of becoming sick. Health and Wellbeing Monthly, 6, 1-5.