View Full Version : Expert Tips to Avoid Colds and Flu

7th March 2011, 08:11 PM
Don’t worry yourself sick avoiding colds and flu. Use these simple strategies to stay healthy... Ironically, being older is a bonus when it comes to this virus. Those over 60 get one fewer cold per year. That’s because they’ve built an immunity and usually aren’t around kids as often.

Seniors, however, are more susceptible to influenza, a complex disease that can be deadly for them, particularly those with chronic disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, emphysema and congestive heart failure.

Whatever your age, it’s true that you’re likely to get sick more often in fall and winter.

According to experts, a perfect storm of seasonal events makes us more susceptible to respiratory illnesses at that time, rather than other seasons.

First, it’s cold outside. That reduces immune-system strength. Second, we’re indoors with others, increasing exposure to germs. And then there’s travel.

“People traveling during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays can spread new viruses to previously unexposed areas,” explains Mark B. Mengel, M.D., M.P.H., executive director of the Area Health Education Center Program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark.

Prevention is always the best medicine. According to the top doctors we interviewed, your grandma’s home-spun advice – wash carefully, get lots of rest, and eat vegetables – is still the most effective.

Here are their top strategies for staying flu-free:

Stay-Well Strategy #1: Wash your hands – a lot!
Seem too simple to be effective? This was the No. 1 tip from doctors we spoke to.

“Hand-washing is the most important way to ward off illness,” says Gregory Sonnen, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician in Rockwall, Texas.

“Running lots of water over your hands thoroughly dilutes viruses and sends them down the drain,” Mengel says.

Lather with warm water and soap before touching your face, eating, blowing your nose, coughing or visiting a sick friend.

Stay-Well Strategy #2: Get a flu shot.
A flu shot does not prevent the common colds and viruses we call “the flu.” This annual vaccination protects against influenza, specific viruses that can cause high fever, fatigue, respiratory illness, even death. In fact, 36,000 Americans die from complications caused by influenza each year.

That’s why the CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a vaccine annually. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine protects against four flu viruses, including H1N1 “swine flu.”

“Anyone who lives with, works with or spends time around the high-risk groups should get vaccinated,” urges Janet O'Mahony, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine specialist at the Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.

“Studies show a clear benefit in preventing flu and its complications in patients who get vaccinated,” she says.

Stay-Well Strategy #3: Take precautions everywhere.
At work: Sneezing, hacking employees don’t help themselves or their employers by going to work. Not only will this prolong recovery time, but it also spreads illness to co-workers.

“If sick employees have to come to work, ask them to wash their hands frequently and clean surfaces they touch,” Mengel advises. “If work isn’t essential, ask them to stay home.”

If you’re sick, stay home and rest until at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever (100°F or higher). Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and toss it into a trashcan right away.

When traveling: It looks funny, but wearing face masks (especially in communal settings) – also prevents flu transmission, according to a 2010 University of Michigan School of Public Health study.

When possible, travel to holiday get-togethers via train, bus or automobile, not plane. A report by Children’s Hospital Boston found that a sharp dip in air travel after 9/11 slowed flu’s spread during 2001-‘02 season.

Outdoors: Grandma was right about bundling up.

People already exposed to a virus are more likely to get sick in cold weather, Mengel says. “Keeping warm – by wearing a hat and proper clothing – can help prevent this.”

But don’t worry about going from the frigid outdoors into overheated indoors. As long as you’re appropriately attired for the cold, drastic temperature changes won’t increase your vulnerability to viruses, Mengel adds.

At home: Disinfect. Rhinoviruses can live up to three hours on your skin and on common household objects such as phones, stair railings, doorknobs and computer keyboards.

The flu virus survives on surfaces for up to eight hours, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. So wash all surfaces with a general household cleaner to remove germs.

Here’s an effective do-it-yourself disinfectant: Add 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 quart of water. Apply the solution to surfaces with a cloth; let it stand for 3-5 minutes; then rinse the surface with clean water.

With a sick family member around, “Clean surfaces two to three times a day,” Sonnen advises.