Flu season peaks in February and can last into May.
There are several months left in the flu season. Here’s some advice about how not to join the millions who get sick, hundreds of thousands who are hospitalized and thousands who die from flu every year.
Prevention is the Best Medicine. The best way to avoid the flu is to get immunized. It’s that simple—and it’s recommended that everyone six months or older do that. Getting a shot at your doctor’s office from a nurse you know in familiar surroundings can lessen any shot anxiety. For people on the go, most area pharmacies offer flu shots as early as September.
People sensitive to the vaccine’s preservative can get a preservative-free shot. Those allergic to eggs can be tested to see if they’re allergic to egg white (the most allergic part) or the yolk (usually non-allergenic), from which the flu shot is derived. So, no excuses. In fact, insurance usually covers the cost of the shot.
The immunity from a flu shot lasts about six months, so getting the shot in late October to November gives peak immunity for February’s onset of flu season. Prevention obviously saves time, money and inconvenience.
Avoiding the Flu. As you may remember, flu virus is spread through contact with contaminated surfaces and droplets in the air. The virus’s point of entry is the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose and mouth. And the usual way of contracting the flu is by inhaling these droplets or touching contaminated surfaces—common areas like door knobs, public restrooms—with your fingers and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
For prevention, clean surfaces and objects frequently and wash hands, especially before eating.
Also avoid contact with people who have the flu. If you’re sick, it’s best to stay home to avoid spreading it to others. In Asian countries it’s considered proper to wear a surgical facemask during flu season to prevent breathing droplets and to avoid spreading the illness. Though it would be helpful if this were more widely accepted in the U.S., that’s unlikely. You’ll have to use other preventive steps.
Staying healthy also helps avoid the flu. Get enough rest and exercise to keep your immune system strong. And eat a healthy diet.
Foods for Fighting the Flu. One of the best immune system helpers is garlic, which has anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities. Green tea has polyphenol compounds that may kill the flu virus, and blueberries are particularly high in antioxidants. Drinking plenty of fluid will help flush viral particles out of your body.
Raw honey has been shown to be effective in treating cold and flu symptoms, especially as a cough medicine. Note: children under a year and immune-compromised people should avoid raw honey because it may contain botulism toxin. But most healthy adults are immune.
Vitamins and Supplements. Vitamin C plays a major role in fighting off infections and is thought to stimulate the body’s production of interferon, which fights viral disease. Vitamin D is also important for strengthening the immune system. In winter, it’s best obtained in oil-based gel caps, rather than pressed powder pills.
Echinacea, derived from the coneflower, may shorten duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms. Some people take it for the entire flu season. In traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus root, a plant in the legume family, is used to lower stress cortisol and fight disease.
Antiviral Medications. A powerful way to combat the flu is to start the medication oseltamivir (Tamiflu) within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. This drug, which is not an antibiotic but must be prescribed by your doctor, can dramatically shorten the course of the disease and lessen the intensity of the symptoms. It can also reduce the risk of complications, including ear inflections and pneumonia, thereby reducing the need for antibiotics.
Best Advice. Getting a flu shot is still the best way to stay healthy during flu season.
Mary-Anne Ost, M.D., is board certified in family and geriatric medicine. Part of the MDVIP personalized wellness program, her practice is located in Kennett Square and West Grove, where she provides personal, preventive health care and comprehensive medical care. Learn more about her practice at MDVIP.com/MaryAnneOstMD.