By Rachel Clark, RN, BSN
It’s that time of year again: the dreaded flu season. We’ve all heard the stories on the news of the numbers of cases of the flu skyrocketing this year. We’ve heard that this year’s flu vaccine is already ineffective in preventing it, so much sooner than flu vaccines in years previous. The strain has mutated, according to researchers, and even if you received the flu shot this year, it may not be protecting you against the mutated strain.
This is not the first year that I have seen this as a nurse. It seems that it has been going on for at least the last 3 years. Each year, our hospitals have been full of patients diagnosed with the flu. Last year was one of the most concerning to me personally, as those who were coming down with the flu and being hit the hardest were people in my age group: their 20s and 30s. Young people across the country last year ended up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and some even died as a result of getting the flu. Many of them had also been vaccinated against it. This year seems to be no different, except that the virus is less discriminate in who is being hit hard.
So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family if the flu shot you received this year is already ineffective, and may not prevent you from contracting this potentially life-threatening illness? There are many ways that you can help boost your immune system at home. Below you’ll find a few simple tips to help you this season as you make your health and your family’s health a top priority.
1. Get enough sleep. Sleep is very important to the healing process of the body. Though there is no “magic number” as far as sleep is concerned, researchers have long said that 8 hours is a good target to shoot for. That may not be the best number for each individual, so listen to your body. You may need more or less. When you are sick, your need for sleep increases, as sleep is the time when your body repairs and rejuvenates itself. As a protective measure, go to bed a little earlier than you normally would in order to give yourself a bit more time to sleep than usual.
2. Drink plenty of water. Yes, WATER! You can add things like lemon, lime, or other fresh fruit juices to it if you can’t stand the taste of plain water, but water is one of your body’s best defenses against getting sick. The average adult body is made up of 50-65% water. That of an infant is much higher, 75-78%. This is why children dehydrate much faster than adults. Women need about 9 cups of water (2.2Liters) and men need 13 cups (3Liters) of total water intake per day. This increases if you are sick, so stay on top of it before getting sick, to make sure dehydration isn’t as severe as it could be.
3. Eat your fruits and vegetables. I know this may sound simple, but it is some of the best advice out there. The US government now recommends that fully HALF your plate at EACH meal should be made up of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables. Most people are lucky if they eat one fruit or vegetable a day, let alone half their plate 3 times a day. Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients, and other components that are essential to building a healthy body. It’s true what Grandma used to say: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” That’s because of all the necessary things your body gets when it eats that apple, or other piece of fruit or vegetable. Your body can’t use fractionated vitamin supplements nearly as well as it can use whole food nutrition found in fruits and vegetables.
4. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Yes, another simple way to increase your immunity this flu season. Alcohol based hand rubs can be very drying to the skin and cause cracks. Any area of breakdown on your skin is a portal through which bacteria and viruses can enter and attack. Use these products sparingly. Whenever possible, use soap and warm water to wash your hands. Fully dry them to prevent cracking and drying of tissue.
5. Cover your cough/sneeze. If you or your family is sick, cover your cough/sneeze. Use tissues whenever possible and dispose of them into the garbage as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of bacteria from the tissue to other surfaces and people. If you don’t have a tissue available, use your elbow rather than your hands. Wash your hands immediately after coughing/sneezing to prevent spread of infection.
6. STAY HOME IF YOU ARE SICK! If you or your family is sick, especially if running a fever, stay home. Exposing others to the bacteria can be life threatening, especially in the very old or very young since their immune systems aren’t as responsive as that of a healthy adult. If you go to the doctor’s office, stay away from others even if they also appear sick, as you could cross infect each other.
These six simple steps, if heeded, may help keep you and your family a little healthier during this flu season.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN