The short answer is no, there is no such thing as the flu season. The longer answer is this: The influenza virus, or “flu”, is an infection that causes symptoms including body aches and pains, fever, chills, headache, cough, or sore throat. While many people simply feel miserable for a few days before slowly getting better, many others develop serious complications including ear and sinus infections (more common in children) or pneumonia.
The reason why we view this time of year as the “flu season” is because the autumn and winter months certainly see an increase in these infections. This is due to a variety of factors, including: decreased sun exposure, increased stress (back to school, Christmas, etc), homework, routine changes, and dehydration (when its cold outside, we often feel less third-thirsty). However, it is possible to get the flu at any time of the year.
The notion of a “flu season” gets perpetuated by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Groups like this ramp up the fear factor every year by warning of the impending new viruses that naturally circulate in the population, and strongly advocating for the flu vaccine.
Prevention of the flu is key – but what’s the best way for you and your family to prevent the flu?
Should You Get the Flu Vaccine?
Whether to get any vaccination is certainly a very personal choice and my goal is to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision. In my practice, I do not recommend the flu vaccine for everyone, though I do let my patients know that the flu is no joke – you can feel awful for a week or two, and there can be complications.
While anyone can get sick with the flu and become severely ill, in the vast majority of cases, it’s merely a cold-like syndrome with a few days of aches, chills and fever. Some people, however, are more likely to experience severe flu-related illness. Very young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions (including poorly controlled diabetes, lung disease, and heart disease), are at greater risk for complications. In any event, I encourage you to discuss the pros and cons of the flu vaccine with your doctor.
Here are few tips that are safe for everyone during “Flu Season”
Wash Your Hands
This is especially true if you’ve shaken hands with someone, have been in a public place (i.e., an elevator, the mall, school, the grocery store), if you’ve been working on a shared computer keyboard (at work, the library), or have exchanged money with someone. Wash for 20 seconds with soap and water (singing the alphabet song takes just about 20 seconds). Please don’t use antibacterial hand sanitizers as they can breed resistant, tough-to-eradicate germs and some also contain chemicals (like triclosan) that act as endocrine (hormone) disruptors.
Stay home from work and school
If you have symptoms of what might be the flu, it is important to stay home from work or school, both for your own health and that of your colleagues/co-workers.
This is a good time to cut down on the alcohol, cut out the sugar, processed foods, dairy, and packaged fruit juice – even if just for a few weeks – and make sure you’re getting plenty of good quality protein and vegetables. The stuff I’m suggesting cutting out, is high in sugar (yes, this includes juice) or other ingredients that suppress your immune system. A whole foods diet, without dairy and sugar, is great protection against getting sick.
If you’ve been burning the candle at both ends for a while, this is the perfect time to give yourself permission to pause. A tired body means your immune system isn’t as fired up as it could be and you’re more susceptible to getting sick. Make a commitment to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, preferably 8 hours.
Lower Your Stress Levels
When you are not under stress, your immune system is able to regroup and recharge. While this may be easier said than done, keeping yourself chill this time of year, which of course, coincides with the stress of holiday season, can make a huge difference in your immune response.
Take Your Vitamins and Herbs
Vitamin D3: Adequate vitamin D status is critical for optimal immune function and is hard to get enough of from food alone, especially in the winter. It’s also been shown that adequate vitamin D levels reduce your likelihood of getting the cold and flu in the first place. Ask your doctor about the right dose for you.
Buffered Vitamin C: Daily use of Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the likelihood of colds and flu, reduce antibiotic use, and school absences in children.
Probiotics: A healthy gut flora supports the immune system’s crucial first line of defense. Taken daily, probiotics have also been shown to prevent colds and flu. Use a product that contains both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains.
Echinacea: Echinacea can prevent the flu virus from entering your body’s cells, and boosts up your immune (thymus) gland.
Fruit Anythocyanins (Elderberry) Syrup: 1 teaspoon daily inhibits the flu virus from replicating.
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By. Dr. Karen McGee, ND