Guest Blogger: David L. Katz, MD
’Tis the season for holiday cheer. But your holidays will be a whole lot cheerier if you don’t share them with influenza! So ’tis the season for flu prevention, too. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps that can help.
Step 1: Get Vaccinated
The first bit of advice is very straightforward, not to mention tried-and-true: Get vaccinated. But the road to that conclusion runs anything but straight. Let’s travel it together.
Among the roadblocks: conspiracy theorists who contend not only that flu vaccination is dangerous, but that there is a systematic effort to delude the public about those dangers. These allegations can make anyone nervous, but the truth is that the influenza vaccine is many, many times safer than the flu itself. That does not mean the vaccine is perfectly safe. Nothing in medicine and little in life is perfectly safe. Harm from the flu vaccine is possible, but a highly remote risk. I readily accept that “risk” every year – for myself, my wife and my children. I put the arms of my loved ones where my mouth is on this topic.
There is some legitimate doubt about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. It is certainly far from perfect, and the elderly, who most need protection, may need two inoculations to get it. But routine flu vaccination produces a decisive overall benefit compared to just taking our chances.
Some recent research suggests that if you exercise the body part receiving the vaccine – generally the shoulder – you can increase blood flow to the site and enhance your response to the vaccine. In essence, you wind up making more antibodies, which should translate into better protection against the flu. The idea here is to exercise before you get the flu shot, so the site is “primed.” This exercise can be some calisthenics or vigorous work around the house – you want to feel that burn in your shoulder.
Step 2: Get an Rx if You’ve Been Exposed
Another bit of tried-and-true flu prevention is so-called “post-exposure prophylaxis.” This is the use of prescription antiviral drugs to prevent symptoms for those who have been exposed to the flu but haven’t been vaccinated. This is especially important for those most prone to complications of the flu, such as the elderly and the chronically ill.
Step 3: Supplement Your Prevention Efforts
During flu season, the days are shorter – which means less sun exposure and declining levels of vitamin D for many of us. Vitamin D is of profound importance to the immune system, and having adequate levels will help make you less vulnerable to infection. It’s always best to talk to your doctor about supplements, but as a rule, I recommend boosting vitamin D intake to 2000 IU throughout flu season.
You might also consider putting Panax ginseng to work for you. This variety of ginseng has been shown to reduce the frequency of the common cold by roughly 30% when taken daily throughout the cold and flu season; the typical dose is 200 milligrams. While flu-fighting potency has not been proven, it stands to reason that the antiviral properties that help fight off colds should help with flu prevention as well.
The flu deserves respect. The flu pandemic of 1918 caused more deaths than World War I and World War II combined! Even garden-variety influenza causes roughly 30,000 deaths each year in the US alone. None of this is cause for panic. All of it is cause to take the threat of flu seriously and to put some good preventive strategies to work for you and your family.
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