KENTUCKY (2/15/14) — Spending significant time in close proximity to others indoors can make people more susceptible to the flu. As a result, winter, when people typically spend more time indoors than outdoors, is often dominated by the sniffling and sneezing synonymous with the flu. But men and women can take steps to protect themselves from the flu this season.
- Get a flu shot. Some people prefer to avoid getting a flu shot because they want to build up their natural immunities or they believe the shots can make them sick. But most flu shots contain an inactive virus that will not make you sick, and will only trigger your body's immune system response to a foreign invader. It can take a couple of weeks for full immunity to develop, so it's possible to still get sick even after a flu shot has been administered. Also, a flu shot does not guarantee recipients won't get the flu. People can still get the flu after receiving a flu shot, as it may be another strain of the virus. But flu shots are largely effective.
- Quit smoking. Smoking cigarettes and cigars can affect the immune system and also compromise the body in a number of different ways. Smoking can disable mechanisms in your breathing passageways that serve as natural repellants to the flu. These include the hairs on the lungs that brush away contaminants. Smoking also can create holes in the lining of lower air passages, and such holes can make people more susceptible to illness, including the flu. Smokers who get the flu typically find that the flu further complicates their ability to breathe.
- Avoid sick people. When those around you are sick, it is best to keep your distance, especially when those people have the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that people with the flu can spread it to others up to six feet away. Flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets of bodily fluids expelled during coughing, sneezing and even talking. This is why doctors recommend that anyone who has the flu stay home from work or school until they are fully recovered.
- Be especially cautious when pregnant. According to Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Medical Center, women who are pregnant are at a higher risk of complications and even death from influenza. Doctors don't fully understand why, but many feel that because the flu can compromise a woman's ability to breathe well, this makes it difficult for oxygen to be passed on to the fetus. Pregnant women should speak with their obstetricians about the safety of the flu shot.
- Get plenty of rest and good food. Adequate sleep and a healthy diet can bolster your immune system. It's important to stay hydrated, eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and prioritize getting a good night's sleep each night.
- Beware of homeopathic remedies. Always check with a doctor before adding any natural remedies to your flu-fighting repertoire. While some supplements like elderberry syrup, zinc and oscillococcinum can mitigate symptoms of the flu, there's no solid evidence that these items offer any preventative value. Homeopathic remedies also can interfere with medications or may be dangerous to a developing fetus, so do not take these substances without first checking with a doctor.
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