With news of the flu beginning to spread across the country, what can you do to stay healthy for your holiday festivities?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this season’s flu outbreak is shaping up to be particularly bad with fewer than 50 percent of the viruses covered by this year’s vaccine, while more recent reports indicate it could be closer to one-third.
OMRF scientists say a lot of the best preventions are fairly simple.
“I’ll start with the same message that’s been out there for years: wash your hands and make sure everyone in your family is doing the same,” said OMRF immunologist Hal Scofield, M.D.
Simply put, don’t sneeze into your hands, and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. The bacteria and viruses that cause the flu, colds and other illnesses are spread by tiny droplets that can be passed by touch. So, the more people you come in close contact with, the greater your risk.
“Soap and water are probably the best things to use, but the hand sanitizers are a pretty good substitution, particularly for the flu,” said Scofield.
For a second line of defense, OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D., a physician and medical researcher, prescribes catching some Zs.
“Studies have shown that people who get eight hours of sleep a night are three times less likely to catch colds than those who average under seven hours,” said Prescott. “The immune system functions better when the body is well-rested.”
Third, while the winter chill and Oklahoma’s harsh winds might make you want to stay indoors, it’s important to keep active in the winter months.
“Moderate exercise decreases the risk both of catching a cold or the flu and of having a particularly severe form of the infection,” he said. “But don’t overdo it, because if you exercise intensely or for a prolonged period of time, your risk jumps right back up.”
Also, staying indoors increases your risk in general, particularly around other people.
“Your risks increase not necessarily because it’s cold, it’s because you’re stuck inside with people as a result of the cold,” said Scofield. “When you’re in a confined space with people who are sick, germs spread. This is particularly true this time of year when you’re bound to see more family and friends than usual.”
Although this year’s flu vaccine might not fight every virus out there this year, it’s still your best defense.
“It’s better than not getting vaccinated, that’s for sure,” said Scofield. “It’s an absolute no-brainer, and it’s not just for the flu. For years, people believed the vaccination only helped prevent the flu. But it’s been shown that people who get the flu shot have fewer illnesses overall. It’s not clear why that is the case, but it’s true.”
Prescott and Scofield aren’t promising any Christmas miracles, but these simple steps can go a long way toward keeping you from feeling like a lump of coal.
“If you’re careful about sleeping, exercising and avoiding infection, those Scrooge-like illnesses are less likely to ruin your holidays,” said Prescott.