Butch Mazzuca: Flu comes with ski season to the Vail Valley
Influenza, or the flu, is unpredictable because the beginning, severity and length of the epidemic depend on a variety of factors.
But there is one constant we can be assured of: Flu season is almost exactly coincident with the ski season, peaking during January and February.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a person can spread the flu starting a day before he or she even feels sick, so one never knows when, where or how they’ll encounter the virus.
And with visitors coming to the valley from around the world, sooner or later each of us will come into contact with people carrying various forms of the flu virus.
Flu symptoms include fever, chills, dry cough, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Sometimes, too, it is accompanied by a sore throat, headache and nasal congestion.
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can also occur, although the CDC says these are not primary symptoms, and what people may call the “stomach flu” is actually gastroenteritis.
Most people recover from the flu within a week or two. But that doesn’t mean flu should be taken lightly. Potential complications from the flu are serious and can include bronchitis or pneumonia.
Left untreated, these complications can be life-threatening.
So what can we do about preventing ourselves from contracting the flu or treating ourselves before it really takes hold?
The following is an amalgam of flu-fighting suggestions gathered from homeopathic physicians, herbalists, the CDC and even a couple of Grandma’s home remedies thrown in for good measure:
1. Get a flu shot.
2. While the flu virus can be spread by coughing and sneezing, the most common way the virus is transmitted is by hand-to-hand, hand-to-nose/mouth or hand-to-object contact. Flu germs can live on such surfaces for hours ” sometimes even days ” only to be picked up by an unsuspecting co-worker who might use the office microwave immediately after someone with the flu has used it. Washing your hands frequently or using an alcohol-based sanitizer can reduce or eliminate many of those germs.
3. When you sneeze or cough, remember to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, not your hands. Using your hands only transfers the germs and leaves you ready to pass them on to the next person you touch.
4. Get eight hours of sleep. While that sounds pretty basic, the simple reality is that most of us don’t get enough sleep. And when we’re deprived of sleep, one of the first things to suffer is the immune system.
5. Wake up to cold showers. But start gradually, by turning the water temperature down at the end of your shower.
6. Ditch the sugar. Good grief, you mean we can’t eat all those holiday treats? Not if we want to protect our immune systems; and here’s why. Neutrophils are the most common type of white blood cell, comprising about 50percent to 70 percent of all white blood cells. Neutrophils are the first immune cells to arrive at a site of infection; and carbohydrates, especially sugar, compromise their effectiveness.
7. Many herbalists feel that echinacea is an excellent remedy for stimulating lymphocytes, the white blood cells that deal with infection. While scientific studies of the effects of echinacea are mixed, many people nevertheless swear by this remedy.
8. Go nuts about nuts ” especially Brazil nuts and pecans. Nuts contain selenium, zinc, vitamin E and magnesium, all of which are needed to boost the immune system.
9. Some people feel that taking large doses of vitamin C can help prevent colds and the flu. Unfortunately, most studies on the efficacy of vitamin C have been inconclusive. Nevertheless, taking vitamin C in limited dosages, say two 500 milligram doses per day, may help ward off the virus.
10. Eat plenty of green vegetables, especially broccoli.
11. Exercise is vital to keep the body and immune system strong. Fortunately, we live in an area where exercise is a way of life. But if you’re a visitor to the valley or someone who doesn’t get out much during the winter months, you should know that exercising to the point of being slightly out of breath for 30 minutes a day, five days a week is usually enough to make your heart and lungs more efficient. And when the body is stronger, so is the immune system.
12. Think zinc. Zinc is the main nutrient that helps to protect the immune system. It also helps white blood cells to resist infection. Zinc- rich foods include eggs, whole-grain cereals, nuts, seafood and meat. Zinc supplements tend to work best if taken on an empty stomach and it’s the last thing ingested before going to bed.
13. Garlic is a natural antibiotic and cure, all due to its main active ingredient, allicin. But to be effective, it needs to be taken raw. Inhaling the fumes of a freshly cut clove of garlic or sucking on a clove (provided you don’t mind the anti-social effects) are excellent ways to protect yourself at the first sign of the flu or a cold.
There are no foolproof ways to keep ourselves free of the flu, but the aforementioned baker’s dozen of prevention tips and remedies surely can’t hurt. Stay well.
Quote of the day: “Health is the thing that makes you feel that now is the best time of the year.” ” Franklin Adams
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes weekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.