Flu season is again upon us and many of us are scrambling to find ideas on what to do this year to prevent us from coming down from the flu, or strategies to alleviate the symptoms once they start. Seasonal flu generally occurs in fall and winter, with peak times in January and February.
It can however occur as early as October, and as late as May. The 3 virus families that typically cause the flu are Influenza A, B, and C. Despite higher numbers of people affected during flu season, the viruses are transmitted year round. Each year, the flu is generally attributed to one of the viral families. It is contagious, and is spread via droplets containing the virus from person to person by sneezing, talking, or direct contact. It is also spread by touching a surface or object that has been contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose.
People at a higher risk for the flu are seniors, children especially younger than 2, and people with chronic health conditions or immune problems. Some of the complications of the flu include pneumonia, ear or sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of other chronic health conditions. Most healthy adults with the flu can infect others one day before symptoms develop, and 5 to 7 days after symptoms appear. Some people, especially children or those with weakened immune systems may be contagious for a longer period.
How can we best prevent the flu? Hand washing as often as possible (or at the very least using an alcohol based hand cleaner is probable the easiest and most forgotten preventative tool we have. Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, before and after eating, after using the washroom, after coughing and sneezing, and after touching surfaces that might have been contaminated. Sneeze into your arm not your hand. If you use a tissue, dispose of it immediately. Keep common surfaces such as keyboards, telephones, and light switches clean and disinfected. Viruses can live up to 48 hours on hard surfaces. If you get sick, stay home.
How can we treat it when it happens? Naturopathic medicine has several options. Homeopathics such as Oscillococcinum, Gripp Heel and Engystol are fantastic medicines that can be used both for prevention and for treatment. Oscillococcinum for example can be taken once a week to once a month throughout flu season, and can be used not only preventatively but dosing can be increased if one contracts the flu to lessen the intensity, severity, and duration of the symptoms. Vitamin C should be an integral part of any winter supplement program, and dosing of 1 or 2 grams a day is an excellent preventative dose. Plant sterols such as Moducare can also be helpful as they protect the immune system by stimulating the production of T cells and natural killer cells which help to fight infections. As well, managing stress is important, as stress can increase the production of immune cells that actually reduce our resistance to infection. Adequate rest, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet, relaxation, and exercise all help to increase our immunity. As well, for the past 15 years, we have been offering a homeopathic flu shot as an alternative to the conventional flu shot. We use a broad-spectrum anti-viral medicine that is not specific to one family of viruses to give protection. There are no side effects to the homeopathic flu shot.