Check List for Preventing Cold & Flu Infections & Avoiding Epidemics
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Cold and flu have been causing trouble for humans for about 200 years according to a study of virology.
Flu season is typically between October and March each year with February being the peak month for infections. Occasionally the risk to health is made more menacing by the outbreak of an epidemic with deadly consequences, such as the latest corona virus COVID-19.
It’s no fun having cold or flu, especially, when they often affect us during our precious time off, depriving us of time spent with friends and family. This was a common occurrence during my teaching career prior to becoming a wellness professional. Time off, became an endurance of sore throat, runny nose, sneezing and coughing, aches and fatigue, the symptoms common to cold and flu infections.
I left my teaching career in 1999, after burn-out from stress of every kind and from there-on I began to examine every aspect of my health and wellbeing.
The discoveries I made resulted in my transformation to becoming happier, healthier, fitter and more empowered. Along with developing a positive attitude, I became pain-free and I don’t get as many colds and flu’s as I used to in my teaching days.
The truth is we all have the potential to have a greater positive influence on our health and wellbeing. I help you to access that potential through my online courses and therapy practice.
Are you ready to prevent cold & flu from stealing your precious time and energy?
Be Informed about your opponent
Being informed about your opponent is a good strategy in sport so let’s put these viruses under the spot-light to see how we can out-manoeuvre them. First we take a look at the viruses themselves, how they take hold and what to do if you get infected and then we look at the ways to prevent infection.
What are cold and flu?
Cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses caused by different types of viruses. They are spread by infected droplets that enter the body and develop there to cause sneezing, coughing, fatigue and aches and pains. Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms, the onset can be quicker and accompanied by fever. Flu can lead to additional conditions of ear and sinus infections and even pneumonia.
Doctors can determine if you have a cold or flu and will usually recommend rest, keeping hydrated and use of over-the-counter remedies for easing symptoms. In some cases an anti-viral remedy may be prescribed.
How are cold and flu viruses transmitted?
Cold and flu viruses are transferred via the infected droplets of a person nearby who is sneezing or coughing or talking. The viruses can also live on inanimate objects for two to eight hours.
Example: If someone with the virus transfers the infected droplets to their hands (by sneezing or coughing) and they proceed to touch a door handle or keyboard which you use shortly afterwards, the virus can then enter your body if you touch your mouth, eyes or nose.
How are cold and flu treated?
Many cases of cold or flu are mild and you can treat yourself at home without prescription medication with recovery generally within one week. It’s important to avoid contact with other people when you first notice symptoms.
- Drink plenty of fluids, including water, soup and other hot drinks.
- Rest and sleep are important for recovery as your body’s immune system is busy fighting the infection.
- Aches, fever and coughs can be treated with over-the-counter medications if needed.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissues and immediately dispose of those tissues.
- Wash your hands to prevent spreading the virus to other surfaces or to other people in your house.
If conditions worsen you should see your doctor especially, if you are at high-risk for flu-related complications e.g. people with weakened immune systems or pregnant women, young children, people over 65 years old and people with chronic illness.
Flu vaccine is available from your local G.P. .Full details of who should get the flu vaccine and when to get it are available via the HSE website.
Extra note: In the case of flu viruses that are on the list of Notifiable Diseases you need to follow the advice of your governments health service.
Natural remedies for cold and flu:
Some people find natural flu remedies helpful. Medical research supports some treatments that include soup, honey, ginger and probiotics:
- Warm chicken soup works on many levels as a flu remedy. The warm liquid can help ease a sore throat and provide hydration and electrolytes. Studies have shown it can also change the movement of white blood cells in your body. This decreases inflammation.
- A lot of “natural” cough and cold medicines contain honey. Honey is an effective cough suppressant. Add some to your tea or eat a small spoonful if you’re trying to stop a coughing fit.
- Drop a few slices of ginger into your tea or a glass of warm water, and sip. This root has healing properties that can ease a sore throat and suppress a cough. It can also help with nausea.
- Probiotics increase the good bacteria in your gut while your body is fighting an infection. A healthy gut micro biome can boost your immune system, prevent new infections, and promote healing.
You might find this list of weird remedies from around the world an interesting read; it includes smelly socks, turnips and lizard soup. My favourite of these is the cocoa hot drink.
Checklist for preventing cold and flu infections and avoiding epidemics:
Many of these recommendations are common-sense and also backed by science, yet many people struggle to achieve the right balance in their daily lives. Keep this checklist close-by as a reminder to stay on track or enlist a wellbeing coach to help you when you are finding it harder to stay focused.
When I started using the Cronometer.com nutrient tracker. I initially focused on staying within my calorie allowance and this ensured I reached my goal weight but it also highlighted something else. According to my dietary intake I was malnourished. The Cronometer shows the nutrient content of food intake and I realised I needed to make some adjustments.
A balanced diet is not just about ensuring you get a bit of every type of nutrient; you need to get the right proportions too. Deficiencies in certain nutrients lead to weakened immune response, leaving your less able to fight off infections.
Nutrients that are most essential for preventing infections from cold and flu:
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals which are essential for a healthy immune system. Green vegetables are especially important. A study using mice showed that when healthy mice were deprived of green vegetables they lost 70 – 80% of cell-surface proteins which had an impact on their immunity.
Deficiencies in Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Zinc can also weaken the immune system. Foods that are good sources of vitamin D include egg yolks, mushrooms, salmon, canned tuna, and beef liver while zinc occurs naturally in meat, fish and nuts. Vitamin C is abundant in fruit and vegetables such as oranges, blueberries, kale, peppers and broccoli.
Make sure to include plenty of fibre as a study from 2018 shows dietary fibre may also boost the immune system along with regulating digestion and lowering the risk of a number of health conditions. The researchers compared the immune responses in mice that ate a low-fibre diet with those that ate a high-fibre diet. The results of the study suggest that the short-chain fatty acids present in dietary fibre enhanced the mice’s immunity to influenza infections.
For a deeper dive here is a comprehensive list of foods that boost the immune system.
Drink Less Alcohol and More Green Tea
New research shows that drinking alcohol can damage the body’s dendrite cells, a vital component of the immune system. An increase in alcohol consumption over time can increase a person’s exposure to bacterial and viral infections.
Green tea on the other hand is a healthy alternative due to its high level of anti-oxidants called flavanoids. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, several fresh-brewed cups a day can lower blood pressure and lead to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Regular exercise not only improves fitness, it has benefits for improving mood and boosting the immune system.
A study published in the Journal of Neurologic Clinicians, shows that regular movement keeps inflammation at bay by reducing stress-related hormones and improving the circulation of white-blood cells which help the body to fight the common cold and other diseases.
The World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) provides recommendations for the amount of physical activity people of different ages need to do on a weekly basis to maintain their health. For example, adults aged 18 to 64 years should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week. The World Health Organisation provides the full list of recommendations for people of all ages and abilities.
An easy way to track of your weekly move minutes is to install the free Google Fit app on your mobile phone. The app gives you an update on your weekly move minutes and heart points (which measure the intensity of your effort).
Quality Sleep is Vital:
Getting adequate sleep is extremely important if you’ve been exposed to a virus. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, healthy adult participants who slept a minimum of eight hours each night over a two-week period, showed a greater resistance to a virus. Those who slept seven hours or less each night were about three percent more likely to develop the virus after exposure. One reason may be that the body releases cytokines during extended periods of sleep. Cytokines are a type of protein that helps the body fight infection by regulating the immune system.
Apart from getting enough hours of sleep your body also needs a good level of deep sleep for restoration of body functions. To monitor the quality of your sleep and fitness levels, I recommend Xiaomi Mi Band. The latest versions are available on Amazon, they are inexpensive and there are a variety of styles and colours of straps to choose from. The band syncs with the MiFit app which you can download to your mobile phone for free.
It is a well known fact that prolonged high-levels of stress have a negative impact on health and wellbeing. In 2012 the National Academy of Science published a study which shows that stress reduction improves health
There are many ways to cultivate calm, explore your personal favourites to incorporate into your lifestyle. Some suggestions include regular meditation, yoga practice, walks in nature or even listening to calming music. Incorporate therapies such as reflexology to release tension, improve circulation and clear your mind from clutter.
Having a wellbeing coach on board is invaluable during times that are particularly stressful. A little encouragement and support can do wonders for getting back on track for tackling the challenges of life and having better defence against infections.
Seven C’s to Calm – Reclaiming your Anxiety-free Self is a simple, practical guide which includes tips and strategies that helped me to loosen the grip of anxious tendencies.
Loneliness is not good for your health and can even lead to chronic illness. Research published by the American Psychological Association suggests that social isolation may increase stress, which slows the body’s immune response and ability to heal quickly.
Make time for friends and family on a regular basis and plan ahead for entertainment and activities that you enjoy sharing with others. It helps to have something nice to look forward to after all the work is done.
Keep your hygiene standards high:
To reduce your risk of infection from cold and flu viruse you need to reduce your exposure to germs. The following hygiene practices are recommended:
- Shower daily and keep your hair clean
- Wash your hands before eating or preparing food and before inserting contact lenses or performing any other activity that brings contact with the eyes or mouth.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds and scrub under your fingernails.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for on-the-go use (as long as you have no allergies to the ingredients of course).
- Disinfect shared surfaces, such as keyboards, telephones, doorknobs, and remote controls.
- Regularly clean personal items such as bags, scarves and devices such as mobile phones and limit sharing of items such as toothbrushes, towels, drinking vessels and dining utensils.
Become a non-smoker:
Smoking increases the risk of infections by making structural changes in the respiratory tract and decreasing the immune response. According to a study of smokers and infections published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2004, smoking destroys cilia, the little hair-like fibres inside our noses, which lead to increase risks to infection by cold and flu. Hypnotherapy can help you to become a non-smoker.
Develop a positive attitude to life – it starts with a smile:
Changing my outlook on life has been the biggest contributor to my overall health, wellbeing and happiness over the last twenty years. A study appearing in the July 2003 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, reports that people with a positive attitude (energetic, happy and relaxed) are less likely to catch colds than people who are depressed, nervous or angry. The study even reported that uptight or sad people are also more likely to complain of cold symptoms even when they don’t have a cold.
Developing a positive mindset needs constant effort. While it does get easier with time, it’s easy to become complacent, slipping back to old patterns. You have to be fully committed to your goal and that’s why it’s important to have support throughout that process. I share my experience and knowlegde with my clients individually and through my on-line courses and newsletters.
Develop your powers of observation and awareness:
Our senses inform us of our environment and provide us with information which allows us to make choices that ensure our wellbeing and safety. We can avoid getting cold and flu viruses by becoming more observant and aware in our surroundings. This means being conscious of people around us and noticing if they have good hygiene e.g. are they covering their faces when they sneeze or cough? Being more aware means you can take more care around people who may be infected with viruses or you can choose to avoid or limit time spent in their company.
Another level of self-awareness involves awareness of energy arising from the intentions (good or bad) of those around you. It can be unpleasant and stressful to be in the company of someone whose intentions and actions towards us are poor and even of a bullying nature. Negative energy can lead to much stress and since stress has been shown to weaken our immunity it makes sense to choose to be around those who are of a more positive mindset with good intentions towards others. Life is such that we cannot completely avoid those who cause us discomfort but we can certainly learn strategies for dealing with difficult people and uncomfortable situations.
Building your confidence from within coincides with identifying and following your purpose or authentic path. It is all part of building a positive attitude and being more empowered in life.
Article authored by Caroline Cunningham with reference links provided to credible sources and research studies.
Caroline Cunningham (author, artist and wellbeing specialist) provides support to individuals and groups through her books, blogs, on-line courses, reflexology therapy and coaching.
Caroline left a science teaching career in 1999 after burn-out brought on by stress. Today, Caroline’s work is informed by 20+ years experience & deep understanding of self-care practice for greater health, happiness and authenticity.
Caroline is passionate about helping others along their authentic paths.