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Help protect yourself during cold and flu season

January 21, 2012
By GLYNIS VALENTI - Staff Writer ( , Times Leader


Times Leader Staff Writer

Another New Year, another cold and flu season. Most humans have become accustomed to slogging through weeks of sneezing and coughing, bundling up inside the house and out, feeling achy and tired-more than one billion people in just the United States annually. But it doesn't have to be like this. There are a few ways to diminish the risk of catching a cold and flu, so snuggle up to that hot water bottle, and read on.

Article Photos

Broth soups provide nourishment without taxing the digestive system. Research shows that chicken soup, a traditional cold/flu remedy, reduces nasal cell inflammation among several other health benefits.

First and sadly, the odds are against complete avoidance of catching something. There are hundreds of strains of flu virus, and researchers have just discovered that the number of rhinoviruses circulating (for the common cold) is about twice what was previously thought, 200 instead of 100. The cold and flu are caught in the same way. Someone with the virus sneezes, coughs or touches a surface with contaminated fingers. If you are within six feet of the coughing, or if you touch that surface within 24 to 72 hours (if it hasn't been cleaned thoroughly,) your body has a good chance of absorbing those germs.

Within hours of that contact-12 for a cold and possibly less for the flu-your body sets its own campaign in motion to destroy or expel the virus. The cold virus settles in at the back of the throat and nasal passages, and the body reacts by producing mucous to carry the germs out and sneezing and coughing to help it along. The flu virus generates an inflammatory reaction generally with an elevated fever, body aches and chills because many of these viruses head for the lungs and bronchial tubes and are more threatening. Most colds run their courses after a week, the flu about five days.

What should you do if you get a cold or flu, or, so to speak, it gets you? If there is no fever, "the first thing, at the first sign, is to start eating broths," says Andrea DeShong, owner of A Journey Within in Wheeling. "Broths are light and healthy, and they lessen the mucous. The body needs potassium. I would add some weakened fruit juices."

Fact Box

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone

who is sick

  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up

a child who has used the toilet

  • After blowing your nose, coughing,

or sneezing

  • After touching an animal, animal feed,

or animal waste

  • After touching garbage

What is the right way to wash your hands?

  • Wet your hands with clean running water

(warm or cold) and apply soap.

  • Rub your hands together to make a lather

and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the

backs of your hands, between your

fingers, and under your nails.

  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least

20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the

"Happy Birthday" song from beginning to

end twice.

  • Rinse your hands well under running


  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or

air dry.

Tips provided by the CDC. For more information on handwashing, please visit

A proponent and practitioner of natural and herbal remedies, DeShong adds that she increases Vitamin C and takes golden seal with Echinacea. This activates the body's immune system and regulates the inflammatory response. Several other remedies may be effective in fighting these particular viruses, including elderberry syrup and astragalus (with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties,) but before adding any treatments-even all natural or herbal remedies-check with a doctor or practitioner to make sure there are no possibilities of interactions with other medications.

In the food realm, DeShong recommends postponing heavy meals and dinner outings with friends until the virus has diminished. Chicken noodle soup is good; steak is bad. "It takes energy to digest food," she notes, energy that the body needs to fight the virus. Adding a little cayenne, ginger or garlic to what you're eating wouldn't hurt, though.

Avoiding dairy products for the length of the bug is also helpful because dairy can promote mucous production, and the body is already producing an uncomfortable amount. Cutting back on coffee and caffeine would take stress away from the adrenal glands and decrease dehydration. Easing stress on the body is crucial for healing, and the process needs adequate fluid to perform all tasks.

More water is a universal recommendation for those suffering with colds and flu. It replaces fluids lost from coughing, sneezing and fever and thins mucous. A classic sore throat soother is a solution of warm water with salt or some oil of oregano (antimicrobial.) Green tea, with its immune-boosting properties, and herbal and medicinal teas found in health shops and grocery stores are excellent ways to add fluids and aid the body's fight against the virus.

Where are these virus germs flourishing? On everything people touch: grocery store carts, doorknobs, restaurant menus, pens, library books, phones, television remotes. No surface is safe. A study by the University of Virginia had subjects with colds staying in hotel rooms overnight and identifying every object they touched. Thirty-five percent of those objects showed virus contamination. One hour after the items were touched, volunteers touched them again and the viruses spread to the volunteers' fingertips in 60 percent of the cases. Eighteen hours later, volunteers were still picking up the virus 33 percent of the time.

If you are healthy, how do you stay that way? Washing your hands is the number one recommendation by doctors and researchers for keeping cold and flu germs at bay. No fancy antibacterial soap necessary, the rubbing and length of time spent are the important factors.

Teaching children proper handwashing techniques is how area schools are gearing up for the season. Nurses Brenda Dunlap of Bellaire School District and Holli Kulow of Harrison North Elementary both say that is the focus. Kulow has also sent out a letter to parents about flu awareness urging families to keep children with fevers at home. She says that classrooms are equipped with hand sanitizer and extra disinfectant wipes now, but teaching children about hand washing and the proper way to sneeze is primary. Kulow, who says she's seen an increases in cold and flu cases this month, notes, "We want to keep children healthy, but we also want to keep them informed."

Dry, cold air and indoor dust increase irritation of the nasal passages (target area of the viruses) thus increasing the body's vulnerability to these germs. Running a humidifier or vaporizer and drinking more water would help keep them better hydrated and you breathing more comfortably. Statistics also show that smokers have colds that are worse and more frequent than non-smokers' colds because of the damage done to the throat and nasal passage linings.

Keep surfaces clean using an antibacterial, disinfectant wipe or spray. DeShong says a natural mixture of water, lavender, thyme, oregano and rosemary oils is naturally antibacterial and will kill germs on surfaces or in the air as a spray-and it smells nice, too.

Doctors recommend getting a flu shot as a preventive measure. Each year the World Health Organization (WHO) looks at the predominant strains of flu viruses and decides what three could be the most likely threats in various parts of the world. The vaccines are tailor made to address those threats. In the United States, this year's vaccine is the same as last year's, containing the A/California/7/2009 (H1N1-like;) A/Perth/ 16/2009 (H3N2-like;) B/Brisbane/60/2008-like viruses. Preferably one gets the shot in early fall, before the flu season begins, so that the body has a chance to build up its immunity. It's estimated that flu shots prevent the flu 70 to 90 percent of the time and diminish its symptoms if someone does contract it.

Finally, one of the most effective preventive or restorative measures you can take is to sleep. Lack of sleep stresses the immune system. If the immune system is run down, the body's ability to fight germs and illness is significantly reduced. If the body has difficulty fighting illness, it could lead to a more serious condition. Allowing the body to heal by staying at home and resting will shorten the duration of the cold or flu and make your defenses stronger when you do return to the outside world.

If outside stresses (family, job, finances) are keeping you up, try yoga, meditation or a brisk daily walk. Just closing the eyes, calming the mind and taking a few deep breaths for even a few minutes each day can give a simple rest to the nervous system that, as strange as it might sound, can provide immense health benefits. Yoga is not just a series of contortionist poses. Certain (easy) twists and bends stimulate the lymphatic system and adrenal glands vital to immunity. Check with a local health club for classes, check out yoga videos at the library, search the various smart phone yoga apps or search for yoga at

This year instead of bracing yourself for the cold and flu, prepare yourself against it. Wash your hands, keep your spaces clean and drink lots of water. Curling up under a fuzzy blanket with a cup of tea will be so much more enjoyable.



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