As I sit writing this, another blast of arctic air is sweeping the country, including the south…and Texas! Schools were closed today, traffic was snarled, and ice and sleet pretty much wreaked havoc with Austin and surrounding areas.
What better thing to blog about today then, than something else that’s sweeping the country: the flu! Ick, right?!
There’s no getting around it though, as this year’s flu season has been one of our country’s worst. Much like the flu pandemic of 2009, the predominant virus this year is H1N1 with 35 states reporting widespread influenza, including many deaths. Coupled with Austin’s intense (way above “high”) level of cedar pollen in the air creating an epidemic of “cedar fever,” sniffling and coughing is everywhere! Cough and sneeze into your elbows people, please!
Every year I get a flu shot, which experts agree is the best way to stay flu free. Ideally, the best time to get one is when they first come out, as they take about two weeks to build up protective antibodies in your system.
What To Do, What To Do…If You Get Sick
So what to do if you get the flu? Do you feed a cold but starve a fever? Do natural herbs really help?
My co-worker Chris recently had a run of the flu in her house and she swears by this recipe to build up your immune system and get you back on your feet should the flu bug bite you: 2 teaspoons of elderberry extract four times a day, 1 teaspoon of raw honey, and 1 packet of EmergenC every three hours. She swears it worked for her and recommends starting it if you get even an inkling that you’re not feeling well.
Thank you Dr. Chris! Now back to feeding a cold and starving a fever. Recent medical science says you should actually feed both a cold and a fever, as your body needs energy and and fuel to fight what ails it. Fever raises your body temperature, which increases metabolism, which results in calories burned, so taking in calories is vital. In addition, fever dehydrates you and makes the mucus in your nose, throat and lungs dry up, which makes coughing difficult and less effective and can also lead to respiratory and sinus infections. Drinking lots of fluids (avoid caffeine and alcohol though, as they enhance dehydration) helps keep the mucus running…right out of your body.
As for all those “magic pills,” here’s a rundown of what might work and why:
So what is that elderberry my friend Chris used? It’s one of many herbal immune stimulants, along with Echinacea, andrographus, and astragalus. Those three are actually considered antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory, while elderberry is high in anthocynanins and antioxidants, which help increase cellular absorption of vitamin C, which in turn protects the surfaces of your nose and mouth so viruses can’t penetrate them as easily. Many say if you load up on these when you’re exposed you may actually reduce the risk of getting sick. Still, some medical studies on taking extra vitamin C and zinc are inconclusive as to their benefits, and some research on Echinacea showed no benefit. Vitamin A, on the other hand, is a true antiviral but you don’t want to ingest it on a daily basis because it can damage the liver in large doses, but for about one week while you’re sick or getting sick, a dose of 10,000 IUs a day may be helpful.
One thing I always take when I’m sick is garlic. My mom told me about it and I swear it works. The popular cooking ingredient is a natural antimicrobial. I chop up a couple of garlic cloves into pill-size pieces and squirt lemon juice on them. Then I swallow them and wait. The garlic seems to literally sweat the bug out of you. One note of caution: you probably don’t want to be around a lot of people after taking the garlic!
Chicken soup doesn’t really have any magic ingredients, but it does have calories and consists of lots of liquid. Any type of similar warm vapor may also help loosen mucus. Hot tea, a hot shower, and even a humidifier can also help.
Over the counter remedies may relieve symptoms and your aches and pains, but they don’t really kill off any viruses or bacteria. Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu do keep those flu bugs from reproducing however, and are most effective if you take them within 48 hours of displaying symptoms.
Sometime store-bought medicines aren’t the only solution. A recent Penn State study found that drinking warm water with two teaspoons of honey calms nighttime coughs in kids just as well as over-the-counter cough medicines do.
Flu, Cold, or Other?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you have allergies, a cold, the flu or something else. Here’s a quick glance chart courtesy “Family Circle” magazine:
How To Keep From Being Bit by the Bug
So those are some ideas on how to treat the flu, but what about avoiding it? The Centers for Disease Control says that, in addition to getting a flue shot, washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways of preventing and spreading colds. Don’t be in a hurry though; all those doorknobs and credit card signing pens you used are chalk-full of germs. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying them. Afterwards, keep your eyes away from your eyes, nose and mouth!
And yes, hand sanitizer is better than nothing, but be sure to rub it into your palms, tops of hands, and in between your fingers…until it’s dry. An ethanol-based formula with an alcohol concentration of at least 60 is recommended.
If you’re travelling, beware! A plane, or any confined space, is the perfect place for germs to linger and spread. In fact, those who take public transportation are six times more likely to suffer respiratory infections than those who don’t! Take with you an immune-boosting supplement like Airborne, drink hot tea and plenty of water, and pack saline spray or nasal swabs to keep those mucus membranes moist. Then, pray!
At home and at work, be sure to use cleaning products labeled “disinfectant,” as they’ve been tested to kill viruses. Cleaning products that are sanitizers kill only bacteria.
Lose weight! Obese people are three times more likely to die from the flu and extra weight may actually make flu shots less effective.
As with anything, don’t just take my word for any of this, as I don’t have “M.D.” after my name. Consult your doctor and in the end, keep in mind that cold and flu viruses need to run their course. The best advice is simple: sleep as much as you can and drink those liquids!