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Avoid Illness Like Colds, Flu and Covid with these Commonsense Tips

07 November 2022

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Colds and flu (and Covid) flourish in cooler weather, not because they prefer lower temps, but because they are spread via droplets in the air, which is much more easily done when people are closer to one another indoors. It’s also thought that cold, dry air may weaken our resistance to viruses, according to Johns Hopkins. In summer months, much of our activity and socializing can be enjoyed out-of-doors, with lots of fresh air blowing any airborne viruses away.

Although it’s easier to avoid spreading or catching illnesses when we’re outside, you can reduce your risk during the ‘indoor’ months as well. We’ve rounded up some simple ways to stay healthy during the indoor months of fall, winter and chilly early spring.

 

When it comes to the flu, the very best way to protect yourself and your family is to get everyone who is eligible vaccinated each year. Same goes for Covid. At this point, most of us are eligible for the initial series and the newest booster, aimed at the new BA strains. Vaccinations are pharmaceutical interventions you can use to decrease your chances of becoming seriously ill (or ill at all) from colds, flu and Covid.

There are also many nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) that you can put into play. Some are environmental, some are common-sense preventatives and all of them are simple.

Wash your hands and don’t touch your face. You may not think you touch your face a lot, but you probably do. A 2008 study found that people touch their faces at a rate of 16 times per hour on average. Why does this matter? Viruses your hands have picked up from another person or perhaps from an infected surface can easily enter the body through your mucous membranes, AKA nose, mouth and eyes. Wash or sanitize your hands often. Use soap and water, and wash for at least 20 seconds. Make sure to get between your fingers and under your nails.

Got kids? Teach them how to wash their hands the right way. The CDC suggests you focus on the five steps of handwashing: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry – and also on important times to wash – before meals or after using the toilet. To help kids wash for the recommended 20 seconds, sing a handwashing song. Example: sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice. Maybe change the lyrics to ‘Happy clean hands to you…’

While you’re at it, keep your phone clean. Here are a few places you might set your phone down: bathroom counter, restaurant table, desk, bathroom stall, kitchen counter, park bench, car. Talk about germ city! A study in 2012 found that cell phones can carry ten times more bacteria than toilet seats. Power down your phone (or iPad or laptop) and grab a disinfecting wipe. Squeeze out any extra liquid and give the device a thorough wipe-down. Dry it off if you need to with a clean paper towel. Pro-tip: Don’t use bleach! It can cause damage.

Wipe down frequent-touch surfaces. Use disinfectant wipes on frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, refrigerator doors, microwave doors and so forth, especially if someone in your office or home is ill.  Cold and flu viruses can live on surfaces for several hours up to a couple of days, depending on the virus and the surface.

Stay home if you’re sick. Germs and viruses can’t spread if we don’t allow them to. If you’re sick, whether you’ve got a cold, flu or Covid, stay home from work, errands or school. If you must go out, mask up to minimize your spread.

Mask up. A great way to decrease your chances of inhaling any viruses – cold, flu, chickenpox, Covid – is to pop on a mask when you’re in crowded, indoor settings. Say you stroll into Target and it’s pretty empty. No mask is reasonable. You go again and it’s packed! Outsmart those airborne viruses - slip on a mask.

Plenty of vitamin D. People who get enough vitamin D are less likely to catch upper respiratory infections than people who don’t. It’s though that this is because amin D helps your cells activate their immune response. It’s recommended that adults get at least 600 international units (IUs) of vitamin D each day, which can be tough to do through diet alone. Foods rich in vitamin D include salmon, tuna, fortified cereals and juices, egg yolk and fortified dairy and plant milk. If you think you’re not getting enough, talk with your doctor about a supplement.

Also zinc. Zinc, taken in lozenge or nasal spray form, can reduce the severity and duration of viral symptoms. Research indicates that it can also decrease the growth of viruses. Benefits are seen when you take 75 milligrams or more, an amount much higher than required to meet your daily needs. Good sources of zinc are tofu, lentils, meat and oysters.

 Skip packed crowds. Indoor, crowded situations are perfect for spreading viruses. The infected person exhales and whoosh! Infectious particles and droplets spread through the room. We know that’s how Covid spreads, but it’s also how colds, flu, measles, chickenpox, whooping cough and more can make their way from one host to the next.

Use a humidifier. Dry air means drier nasal passages, which are less effective at trapping and eliminating viruses and other microorganisms that can enter your body through your nose. Keep your humidifier clean, though. Humidifiers are warm and moist – the perfect habitat for mold.

Cover coughs and sneezes. When you sneeze or cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. Viruses spread when droplets containing them are launched into the air. Coughing and sneezing (or even a big belly laugh) are powerful ways to spray your virus across the room.

Practice good sleep habits. In a Journal of the American Medical Association study, scientists gave 153 people nasal drops containing a cold virus (rhinovirus) and tracked how much and how well they slept. The folks who slept less than seven hours a night were three times more likely to become ill than those who slept eight or more hours a night.

Eat a healthy diet. You’ve heard the phrase ‘eat the rainbow.’ That means filling your diet with a nice, colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. Bright colored fruit and veg are packed with antioxidants and nutrients which bolster your body’s ability to fight off cold and flu viruses.

Make time to relax. When you’re stressed out and feeling run down, your body may increase production of cortisol, a hormone which can weaken your body’s immune system and ability to fight infection.

Add probiotics to your diet. Foods like yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi are filled with ‘good bacteria,’ which may help support your immune system. A study conducted in 2014 found that rugby players who took a probiotic supplement experienced fewer colds than those who were given a placebo.

 

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