As the temperatures begin to fall and children settle in for the school year, it’s time to think about cold and flu season, or rather how to prevent illness. Although it may be impossible to completely avoid these viruses, we can take action to boost our immune systems at this time of year.
When it comes to cold and flu, avoiding large crowds in general is the best prevention, but it may not always be practical. Teachers and school-aged children are at a natural disadvantage due to the sheer number of people they interact with daily. Medical and hospital personnel and workers in busy retail settings are also at higher risk. For these individuals, frequent, thorough hand washing is a must. Soap and water is best, but alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be used between hand washings to keep the spread of germs at bay.
Stephanie Harris, a staff pharmacist at Hospital Discount Pharmacy, encourages drinking extra fluids this time of year to help flush toxins from the body. She also recommends keeping the nasal passages moist with saline nasal spray. “When the nose is dry, it’s easier for viruses to attach to the nasal lining,” Harris said. “Flushing the nasal passages with saline can really help to reduce illness.” She also offers the following tips:
- Take a daily multivitamin
- Add extra vitamin C
- Get flu and pneumonia vaccines as appropriate
Flu vaccines are typically given in October and November and take approximately two weeks to fully take effect. The Centers for Disease Control recommend routine vaccination for the following:
- Children ages 6 months-10 years
- Pregnant women
- People over 50 years of age
- Individuals with chronic health conditions
- Healthcare workers
- People who live or work in long term care facilities
The pneumonia vaccine is generally given only once, but those in high-risk populations may be advised to take a booster dose. According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals over 65, those with a chronic illness or weakened immune system, and those who have had undergone a splenectomy should consider the pneumonia vaccine.
Keith Bishop, owner of Health Nut Rx in Oklahoma City, also encourages patients to consider digestive health during cold and flu season. “The gastrointestinal tract is prominent part of the body’s immune system. In fact, half of our immune function comes from the digestive tract.” For this reason, patients should consider a probiotic supplement, which helps to prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut. Bishop, who has a BS in pharmacy and is working towards his certification in clinical nutrition, also stresses the importance of moderate exercise, adequate rest, and frequent small meals with five to six servings of fruits and vegetables daily. “Patients who are not getting enough servings of fruits and vegetables in their diet should definitely be taking a supplement that contains fruit and vegetable extracts.” Such supplements can replace the antioxidants missing if our diets are lacking. Bishop also recommends the following supplements to boost immunity:
- A daily multivitamin with minerals
- Zinc, 15-30mg daily
- Vitamin A, 5000 IU daily
- Selenium, 200mcg daily
- Vitamin C, 500mg daily
While the annual fall frenzy is unavoidable, cold and flu does not have to be a regular feature of the season. Contact your healthcare provider for more tips on preventing illness this time of year.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions, Edmond. She holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in English from the University of Central Oklahoma. Shannon lives in Edmond with her husband and two daughters.