Wholly Healthy: Flu Season Is Already Here

Cold and flu season is again upon us. I’ve already started seeing patients with pneumonia. I have colleagues who are seeing influenza — and I’m writing this in August. So I have some tips for managing the upcoming season. 

— First (and I’ve written about this before), eat less and exercise more. When you are fit, you fight infections more easily. And besides that, you just feel better. So hit the gym before Thanksgiving; don’t wait till afterward just because you feel guilty about Thanksgiving!

— Second, update your kids’ vaccinations. It matters. In Europe there are currently 41,000 cases of measles. That’s a huge problem.

— When the influenza vaccine is available, get it. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. And even when the flu strains change or the vaccine is imperfect, it may give you some partial protection against more severe complications of the flu.

— Next, talk to your family doctor about whether you should have the pneumonia vaccine. The CDC recommendations for this vaccine can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/pneumo/index.html.
Pneumonia is a bad disease, and the vaccine can prevent you from weeks of misery (or, in some cases, death) from pneumonia.

— Another simple intervention for cold and flu season? Take vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D can reduce susceptibility to influenza and other respiratory infections. Vitamin C may also help treat or prevent assorted infections. 

— During cold and flu season, wash or sanitize your hands frequently when out in public. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. When family members are ill or hospitalized, be careful about visiting them. If they have an infectious disease, pay attention to guidelines the hospital recommends — that is, wear a mask if it is recommended.

— Likewise, if you are ill, avoid visiting those who are very old, newborns, or those who have poor immunity (those on chemotherapy for cancer, for example, or those who have had recent organ transplants). 

— If you’re an employer? Be smart and compassionate. If your employee really has the flu or something like it, perhaps he or she should be allowed to stay home for a couple of days just to avoid exposing all other workers to the same. (And remember that an ER visit for a work excuse can cost them thousands of dollars, and that’s on the low end.)

— Take antibiotics if prescribed, but if you are told you don’t need them, be happy. They can cause dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria, allergic reactions, diarrhea and other complications.

— Finally, if you or a loved one are very ill, and you have to visit an urgent care, emergency room or family physician, ask if your condition can be managed without hospitalization. Hospitalization carries risks — like the risk of developing more complex infections acquired from other patients.

I hope that this cold and flu season is better than last year’s. But whether it is or isn’t, the simple interventions above can make a big difference in your health.