The Influenza Virus
With the flu season around the corner, many of us are trying to figure out how to stay healthy and “flu-free.” The flu is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Common symptoms include:
– Runny nose
– Sore throat
– Body aches
Cold vs Flu
It’s important to note that the flu is different from the common cold. Both illnesses are caused by different viruses and the flu usually comes on suddenly with more severe symptoms. The flu is also more likely to cause complications such as pneumonia, ear infections and sinus infections.
Most people think that the influenza vaccine is all they need, but according to the CDC, the influenza vaccine is only 60% effective. Here are some additional ways to help you prevent the flu (and the common cold):
1. Build a healthy immune system
The most effective way to prevent the flu, and many other diseases, is with a healthy immune system. Our immune system has special cells and molecules that recognize and fight pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria. While everyone is susceptible to the flu, those with weaker immune systems are at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu. Children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with other medical conditions such as heart failure are at risk. A healthy balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep and stress management are simple, yet incredibly effective ways to boost the immune system and prevent many other diseases!
2. Cover your mouth
The influenza virus is transmitted through air droplets, so there is some merit to covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing, especially if you have symptoms.
3. Wash your hands
While the influenza virus is transmitted by air droplets, you can still spread the virus with your hands. Since flu symptoms may not appear for up to one day after being infected, it’s that much more important to wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your face since the nasal passages are the main entry for the influenza virus.
4. Disinfect your home
This goes along with tip #3. Disinfect commonly touched places in your home, such as doorknobs and light switches.
5. Avoid contact with sick people
The influenza virus is contagious so make sure to limit your exposure to those who are infected. If you happen to be sick as well, stay home and get some rest!
6. Take vitamin D
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation in children decreased the risk of contracting the flu. Homeopathic remedies such as probiotics, vitamin C and oscillococcinum may help, but studies have not yet shown definitive evidence for their use in preventing the flu.
Take advantage of what Mother Nature has blessed you with
Despite your best efforts to prevent the flu, it’s still possible that you may come in contact with the virus. A healthy immune system, however, can stop the virus before it can spread throughout the body. The influenza vaccine is just another way to help build our immune system’s resources, but won’t be effective if our innate healing mechanisms aren’t functioning properly.
Make sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle all year round and discuss the best flu prevention options for you and your family with your healthcare provider.
Share your flu prevention methods in the comments below!
Check out How to Prevent the Flu: Tips from 30 Health and Flu Prevention Experts on the Best Way to Avoid Getting Sick with the Flu this Winter