Staying Healthy During Cold & Flu Season

By: KBTX Staff Email
By: KBTX Staff Email

Every year about this time the same thing starts to happen. People get sick with the cold and the flu.

The state of Texas has seen an increase in Influenza A virus infections heading into the new year. Here locally, we've been lucky. Numbers are down.

From October to December there were just 71 cases reported here in Brazos County. That's nearly half the 150 cases reported from the same time in 2009.

Interestingly, doctors are not required to report the flu to the health department, so the numbers they have are the cases that have been reported.

Doctors say the flu vaccine covers all of the viruses seen so far in Texas including the flu virus that caused the 2009 pandemic.

Doctor Alan Xenakis, KBTX Medical Contributor, stopped by the set to discuss ways you can prevent catching the flu, tips on staying healthy and how you can keep those New Year's Resolutions even after getting sick.

Doc X’s “Baker’s Dozen Natural Tips” to Prevent a Common Cold

I wish I could tell you different, but there are simply no known immediate cures for colds and flu! More than 200 viruses can cause the common cold, with the rhino-virus being the most common type. Please don’t take antibiotics for a common cold.

Not only do antibiotics not cure the cold, but they make you more antibiotic resistant for when you do have an infection. But I do have encouraging news, that is there are at least 13 effective things you can do, things that you can control that can significantly prevent you from catching a cold or the Flu.

#1 Wash Your Hands… Don’t Just Rinse Them!
The majority of colds and Flu’s are spread by viruses which love direct contact to spread their misery. Colds are most contagious during the first two to four days after symptoms appear, and may be contagious for up to three weeks.

Sneezing onto a hand that then touches a dish, glass, phone, keyboard, or faucet is a perfect way to transmit the misery message of a virus. The life of an infective virus is variable. It depends partly on where the virus laden droplets fall. Experiments with specific cold and flu germs have shown potential survival times ranging from a few minutes to 48 hours or more. How long such germs remain capable of infecting you in day-to-day life is harder to say.

Researchers have repeatedly found that cold and flu germs generally remain active longer on stainless steel, plastic and similar hard surfaces than on fabric and other soft surfaces. On any surface, though, flu viruses seem to live longer than cold viruses do. Other factors, such as the amount of virus deposited on a surface and the temperature and humidity of the environment, also have effects on how long cold and flu germs stay active outside the body.

So wash your hands often and thoroughly. If no sink is available, rub your hands together very hard for a minute or so with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that also helps break up most of the cold germs.

#2 Sorry Mom, But Please Don't Cover Your Sneezes and Coughs With Your Hands. Use A Tissue Instead!
Viruses are clingy creatures, they like to stick to your hands and fingers. So creating a muffling effect with your bare hand against coughs and sneezes is a sure way to transmit your germs to others.

Here’s a tip Mom will agree with. As a sneeze or cough starts to overtake you, have a tissue ready, cough and sneeze into it not your hand then please throw the used tissue away immediately don’t reuse it or stuff it into your pocket where you just create a cave for infidel viruses. Yes, it is true, if you don't have a tissue, you should cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow, but if you do that please don’t rub your elbow or clean it without washing your hands. If you do it kind of defeats the purpose.

#3 Wash Your Hands Before You Touch Your Face
Cold and flu viruses are not polite. They enter your body without invitation! If you feel the need to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth wash your hands first. Your body trusts that you will take care of it when viruses won’t!

Research shows that touching their own faces is the major way school children catch colds from other infected children. But that’s not all! It’s also the principal way our children pass colds on to us as parents, grandparents, friends, or relatives. The trick is not to push the child away or reject their sensitive touch. Just wash, it’s that simple.

#4 Drink Plenty of Fluids... and What Does That Mean?
I love this suggestion. However, It should read drink plenty of fluids that hydrate you but don’t make you pee! Fluids that have diuretics in them (like tea (except green tea), coffee, alcohol, and caffeinated soda) elevate or increase your rate of peeing which actually causes you to lose fluid not retain it.

Water on the other hand, cleanses and nourishes our body. Water washes out the toxins in our system as it re-hydrates us.

So how much do we need? The amount of water daily do we need depends on whether we are at rest most of the day, sick, exercising, at high altitude etc. While many of us have heard the recommendation that a typical, healthy adult needs eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids each day. The reality is it depends.
If you are thirsty at all it is too late. 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated with 1/3 of these folks mistaking their thirst mechanism for hunger. Dehydration has been associated with an increase in Colon, Breast and Bladder Cancer Risk.

How can you tell if you're getting enough liquid? If the color of your urine runs close to clear, you're getting enough. If it's deep yellow, you need more fluids.

#5 Take a Sauna
Researchers aren't clear about the exact role saunas play in prevention, but one 1989 German study found that people who steamed twice a week got half as many colds as those who didn't. One theory: When you take a sauna you inhale air hotter than 80 degrees, a temperature too hot for cold and flu viruses to survive.

Other Researchers publishing in the British Medical Journal showed that Nasal hypothermia (breathing warm moist air) can improve the course of a common cold and also give immediate relief of symptoms

#6 Do Exercise Regularly
Simply put, exercise helps your immune system fight simple infections like colds and flu. With exercise, the number and aggressiveness of certain immune cells, such as the ones called natural killer cells, increase by as much as 50% to 300%. If you exercise regularly, this temporary increase can help make the immune system more efficient at destroying viruses that cause colds and Flu’s

Aerobic exercise speeds up the heart to pump larger quantities of blood; makes you breathe faster to help transfer oxygen from your lungs to your blood; and makes you sweat once your body heats up. These exercises help increase the body's natural virus-killing cells.

Should You Exercise With a Cold? Because exercise may help to boost immune function, it's usually safe to exercise with a cold. However, if you have a sore throat or fever, with a cold, exercise may stress your body even more. That's why it's important to wait a few days to get back to your regular exercise regimen. Working out too hard with a cold could stress your body, causing you to feel worse. This additional stress may hinder your recovery

#7 Eat Foods Containing Phytochemicals

That’s “Phyto” for us, not “Fido” for our animals.

The common cold is a viral infection primarily caused by rhino-viruses. It is the most common infectious disease in humans, and responsible for about 500 million illnesses in the US every year. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the common cold and related diseases costs the US about $40 billion every year

The term "Phyto" means plant. Natural chemicals in plants often give the vitamins in food a supercharged boost for us when we are sick with a virus. It makes complete sense. Fruits and vegetables are extraordinary sources of a range of vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients that supports general health and wellness. So any increased intake in these essential components should be expected to help reduce the severity of the common cold. Beware of drinking too many fruit juices though that may be high in sugar

#8 Eat Non Fat Low Sugar Yogurt
There is good evidence to show that eating a daily cup of low-fat or non fat yogurt (I eat FAGE Total 0% all natural non-fat Greek Strained Yogurt) can reduce your susceptibility to colds by 25%.

The reason for this benefit appears to come from the beneficial bacteria in yogurt that may stimulate production of immune system substances that fight disease.

It's the good bacteria--such as lactobacillus bulgaricus, streptococcus thermophilus, lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus--that convert pasteurized milk to yogurt during fermentation. These live and active cultures also break down lactose, the sugar in milk, which allows lactose-intolerant individuals to eat yogurt without side effects like abdominal cramping, bloating and diarrhea.

#9 Don't Let Smoke Get in Your Eyes, Lungs, Etc.
Statistics show that heavy smokers get more severe colds and more frequent ones.

Even being around second hand smoke zaps the immune system. Smoke dries out your nasal passages and paralyzes cilia. These are the delicate hairs that line the mucous membranes in your nose and lungs, and with their wavy movements, sweep cold and flu viruses out of the nasal passages.

One cigarette can paralyze cilia for as long as 30 to 40 minutes.

#10 Use Alcohol in Moderation
Heavy alcohol use suppresses the immune system in a variety of ways. Heavier drinkers are more prone to initial infections as well as secondary complications. Alcohol also dehydrates the body -- it actually causes more fluid loss from your system than it puts in.

In fairness, research reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, revealed that men and women who drank more than 14 glasses each week had a 40% reduction in colds compared with people who did not drink. The association was stronger for red wine and the same findings were not true for people consuming other alcoholic beverages. On average the men in the group had 1.1 colds per person per year during the 12 month period, while women averaged 1.7 colds per person per year. Even after adjustment for total alcohol intake and for other potential risk factors for common cold and other risk factors for catching a cold, such as exposure to children, smoking status, allergies and other diseases the results remained unaltered. The association was found to be stronger for those consuming red wine. The results were limited to light -to- moderate wine consumption.

With a Cold we need R&R badly. Nothing substitutes for good ol' rest and relaxation. By teaching and allowing yourself to relax, you can activate your immune system on demand. There's evidence that when you put your relaxation skills into action, your interleukins, nature’s SWAT team in the immune system response against cold and flu viruses, increase in the bloodstream.

Coach yourself to picture an image you find pleasant or calming. This exercise has not only helps you relax but also allows you to fall asleep more quickly when it’s time to hit the sack. Do this regularly 15-20 minutes a day. Taking yoga classes can help you learn some essential relaxation skills. If a hot yoga studio is appealing you will benefit from the sweating too, which will help you clean your body from toxins.

For those of you who are type A personalities, please keep in mind, relaxation is a learn-able skill, but it is not doing nothing. We need to relax to remain healthy and fight disease.

#12 Lose the Sweet Tooth
The average American consumes an astounding 2-3 pounds of sugar each week. One of sugar's major drawbacks is that it raises our insulin level which inhibits the release of growth hormones, which in turn depresses our immune system This is not something you want to take place if you want to avoid disease and cut down on common colds and Flu’s

#13 Avoid Crowded Places, Air Conditioning and Keep Rooms Well Fresh Aired
Avoid crowds. The several hundred different types of cold viruses that exist are present with the more people you are around, the more likely you will come into contact with a virus that you have little or no immunity to, even if you have just recovered from a cold of your own.

Avoid air conditioning that does not have a humidifier. Air conditioning units and central heating both have the effect of drying out the air around us. This also dries out the lining of the nose, which is an essential barrier against viruses entering our bodies.

Keep Your Rooms Well Aired: Breathing in the same air throughout the day increases your chances of breathing in someone else's cold virus. Keeping windows open and keeping fresh air moving around the room will help flush out infected air


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