If you’re like most people, it’s likely you’ve already been exposed to this year’s assortment of viral flora and fauna. Influenza, better known as “flu” season has arrived, and with the stress of the New Year, we’re more susceptible to getting sick than during other times of the year. Although many dismiss the severity of contracting the flu as a mere inconvenience, if you’ve been unlucky enough to get it in recent years, you know that its wrath can be fierce, debilitating and even deadly if the right conditions align just perfectly. It also takes a significant economic toll due to absenteeism from work or school and reduced productivity sometimes lasts far after symptoms abate. Young children under five, older adults over 60 or just about anyone struggling with underlying illnesses are at the highest risk for contracting the flu, but we all play a part in its spread to vulnerable populations. There are many immune-boosting ways to protect yourself. These simple strategies to reduce risk and facts about the flu might come as a surprise, providing further evidence as to why it’s important to continue to raise awareness about this insidious threat to health worldwide.
Epidemiology of Influenza
Millions of people contract the flu annually and at least 500,000 people will die from it each year. In contrast to an influenza pandemic, the seasonal flu is a recirculated version or a mutation of similar strains that we have encountered in the past. As these strains become more sophisticated in their ability to circumvent the defenses of our immune response, they have become more virulent. The flu can live for up to two days on hard or non-porous surfaces and up to 12 hours on clothing and tissues. During mild temperatures, the flu will last for no more than a week, but in freezing conditions, it can survive indefinitely.
Stress & the Immune System
While in “fight or flight” mode, all efforts are mobilized to increase energy and shunt blood flow to the muscles and heart to facilitate a rapid response. During this time, digestion and immune function take a back seat to those immediate needs. Hormonal products of stress like cortisol and adrenaline eventually overwhelm the system, causing fatigue and compromising natural killer T-cell function to recognize and attack viral or bacterial invaders. Stress also distracts us from being attentive to the initial signs of an impending illness. The moment you first recognize a tickle or scratch in your throat or a change in temperature, either cold or hot, is a critical intervention point for self-care that can mitigate the illness dramatically.
The Next Influenza Pandemic is Coming
There have been four major influenza pandemics since the early 1900s spanning from the deadliest, the Spanish Flu in 1918, to the least deadly, the swine flu in 2009. The Spanish flu killed 500 million people, more Americans than in any war to date, as no pharmaceutical defense existed at the time to keep up with spread and containment. It is predicted that the next one is coming soon and will affect young, healthy people disproportionately because it will be a novel flu – one to which we have not yet been exposed. The reason for this is unknown but could possibly be attributed to an overreaction of immune response causing damage to other host organs, which is why no one will be spared when the next flu pandemic occurs. In this scenario, only a vaccine will prevent millions from dying, but fortunately our capability to produce them has become both faster and more precise than during previous pandemics.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
Supplement with Superfoods: At the first sign of illness, start a regimen of immune-supporting care using Navitas Organics Daily Superfood Wellness Boost – powerful combination of probiotics (1.5 billion CFUs) and premium superfoods to support energy, vitality and overall wellness. Other individual players in effective immune support include Vitamin C, astragalus, slippery elm, zinc throat spray and elderberry. For an off-the-charts source of Vitamin C, try mixing one teaspoon of Navitas Organics Camu Powder into your orange juice for an added 760% of your daily needs. You can also drink herbal teas with quality sourced honey, lemon, apple cider vinegar and cayenne or make a Matcha Frappé to benefit from Matcha’s impressive abundance of the antioxidant EGCG, a broad-spectrum nutrient that promotes healthy cellular function.
Keep it Clean: Vigorously wash your hands in warm water for a period of 20 seconds after contact with other people or surfaces that may have become contaminated in public areas. Additionally, remember to cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing – with a tissue, in the crook of your elbow or inside your shirt – to avoid spreading droplets through the air.
Stay Home: The flu is spread by person to person contact, so stay home when you are sick and don’t go out into public areas.
Practice Self Care: Manage stress during predictable times by committing to stress-reducing activities such yoga, meditation, psychotherapy or taking long walks. Practicing these exercises while also maintaining a healthy diet rich in phytonutrients can help support a healthy immune system throughout the year.
Ditch Unhealthy Habits: Make 2018 the year to quit smoking! Smokers are disproportionately affected by both flu and cold, even the mild cases, as explained in this 2008 Yale study.
Get Vaccinated: The gold standard in flu prevention is getting the vaccine, which despite the controversy, provides a good barrier of protection. While it may not be 100 percent effective due to rapidly mutating strains, it will provide enough protection to avoid extreme symptoms or a flu that holds on for exceedingly long periods of time.