How to fight off colds and the flu

By Dr. Julie Anne Chinnock

The sneezing season is fast approaching. Understanding how bugs are passed around and what you can do to avoid them is key to surviving this nasty time of year.

Colds and the flu are caused by viruses. These viruses usually enter the body when you come into contact with someone who is infected. Germs in saliva or mucous droplets from moist breath can travel from one person to another through talking, sneezing, coughing, or shaking hands, which then come into contact with the mouth or nose.

Both the flu and a cold are viral infections, but with very different symptoms. Knowing the difference between the two can be important to your specific health care needs.

Arm yourself for the fight

  • Some studies show that smokers are more likely to get the flu than non-smokers, so quitting smoking may keep you healthier.
  • Avoid others who are sick.
  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, especially after handling money, being in public places or around others who are ill.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Keep the air in your home or work environment moderately cool.
  • After potential exposure, take 1 gram of vitamin C twice a day (or to bowel tolerance).
  • The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends flu shots for the following:
    • Children aged 6–59 months
    • Pregnant women
    • People 50 years of age and older
    • People with chronic medical conditions
    • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
    • People in contact with individuals who are high risk for complications from the flu
    • Out-of-home caregivers of children less than six months of age
    • Healthcare workers
  • Medications, like Tamiflu can be taken to help alleviate flu symptoms. Tamiflu must be taken within the first 48 hours that symptoms occur and while symptoms continue. Note, Tamiflu is not effective in treating a cold.

Feel better, faster

  • The best treatment for a cold or flu is rest and fluids. Drinking fluids keeps you hydrated and helps loosen phlegm and other secretions.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages, which tend to dehydrate the body.
  • Rest is very important. Sleep gives your body energy to fight off the infection and allows it to produce immune enhancing cells.
  • Avoid simple sugar(s) and eat a light diet.
  • Warm salt-water gargles are useful in relieving a sore throat. Use one teaspoon salt to one cup water, swish and spit out the solution.
  • Using zinc (gluconate) lozenges or intranasal spray short-term for colds and the flu within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms has been shown to shorten the duration of the cold.

And last, but not least, chicken soup with vegetables has been shown to be beneficial for those with colds and other respiratory symptoms. This may be due to improving hydration, accelerating mucosal clearance, or possibly by killing off microorganisms themselves. Studies have shown that homemade soup is more effective, so why not make a batch today?

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