It’s been in the news: This year’s flu season is well underway, bringing deep aches, severe sore throat, congestion, and sometimes dangerously high fever to those unlucky enough to catch the virus.
Despite the misery influenza can inflict on a person, many are hesitant to take advantage of flu vaccines. Maybe that’s because of a myth that circulates year after year. Let’s debunk that false idea here and now: No, getting the vaccine does not infect a person with the flu.
What a flu vaccine does is show your immune system a particular strain of this year’s infection. To do that, a small sample of a deactivated form of the virus is introduced. Once your immune system identifies the antigen—a chemical signature unique to that strain of virus—it goes to work designing an antibody, a different chemical that will fit precisely against that antigen and destroy it.
Bingo! With the creation of that antibody, your immune system has learned how to arm itself. If later in the season you are exposed to a live strain you’ve already “met” in its vaccine form, your body will have a ready recipe for ammunition.
So…to have the shot, or not? Please ask your doctor. Those in high-risk, high-recommendation categories include patients with certain chronic conditions, caregivers who must guard against exposing others to illness, and anyone over 50 years old.
True, getting the shot is not a rock-solid guarantee that you won’t catch the flu. While there has never been a “perfect immunity” flu formula, each year’s vaccine is still valuable in preventing illness at least part of the time.
More good news: Prevention doesn’t end with a shot. You personally can take action to decrease the chances that flu and other “bugs” will affect you. A few easy practices can make the difference between sickness and staying strong.
- The dirty truth about electronics
When we think of surfaces that can harbor germs, our minds often turn to objects shared by many people: the furniture in your doctor’s office, or doorknobs, copier buttons, and stair railings at work. But in fact, anything you breathe on or touch frequently can be a secret germ incubator—including your favorite electronic devices. And just think, you’re in direct contact with these personal microbial hotspots so often, and for so long at a time.
When was the last time you cleaned your computer keyboard? your cell phone screen? the remote control for your television? A simple 50 percent solution of white vinegar and a soft, lint-free cloth will work wonders to wipe out hidden germs without damaging the device.
- A burst of color, a boost in health
Have you heard the expression “Eat across the rainbow”? It’s a reminder to choose foods in a variety of colors. Fruits and vegetables of deep greens and purples, bright reds, oranges, and yellows—they’re all naturally packed with antioxidants. Fill your plate with these delicious, fresh choices that satisfy both your palate and your body’s defense needs.
- Supplement for a whole-body boost
A smart diet is a fantastic start, but remember that during cold and flu season, your immune system is clocking overtime. Supplements to consider:
- Vitamin C— Eating whole fruits and vegetables can take you a long way in maintaining Vitamin C levels. Peppers, dark leafy greens, kiwifruit, broccoli, berries, oranges, tomatoes, and green peas are all fantastic for boosting your immune system.
- Vitamin D—my fave vitamin is essential for staying healthy. Get your levels checked by a doctor to be sure that you’re not super deficient (I was) and need more than 1000 IUs.
- Zinc—may help prevent reduce the duration of a cold by 50 percent.
- Echinacea—reduces the chance of catching viruses by up to 58 percent and reduces their duration significantly.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC)—This powerful antioxidant is actually a precursor of glutathione, but it’s more easily absorbed by the body. NAC not only helps prevent the flu, it also assists against respiratory challenges such as reactions to dust and pollution.
- Now that’s a breath of fresh air!
Chronic emotional upset takes a physical toll. We know that anxiety can leave you vulnerable to a wide range of illnesses, from the common cold to serious heart conditions.
Reversing stress can be as simple as setting aside five minutes a few times a day to simply breathe, deeply and slowly. Really! Deep breathing releases tension, clears the mind, and stimulates the flow of lymphatic fluid, an important component in your body’s natural defense system.
- Good practices, at any time
Of course, the wellness habits that are good for you during the rest of the year are critical during cold and flu season. Make sure you’re supporting all of your body’s systems by treating yourself well: Stay hydrated, avoid inflammatory foods like sugar and caffeine, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly.
Do you have these habits in your arsenal already? I do and I hope you will, too. Easy, smart wellness practices just might save us from the illness and misery that are so common in the cooler months. Here’s to you and your strong, vital defenses, during cold and flu season and beyond!