Boosting immunity during flu season
by Agnes Chung
While flu season has not officially arrived in Metro Vancouver, now is a good time to prepare. Being prepared lessens the impact of pesky viruses on your health, home and workplace. The contagious respiratory disease affecting the nose, throat and lungs – is caused by various types of flu viruses. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop protection against flu infection, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. The World Health Organisation determines the best vaccine concoction to manufacture annually.
Flu and common cold differences
Cold and flu are both viral infections, and share some similar symptoms, but differ in treatments. “Flu is a more severe illness than cold,” says Dr. Meena Dawar, Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health. “People with flu usually have a fever, particularly adults and seniors, and tend to have cold symptoms such as cough and runny nose. The cough can be a bit more prominent, usually from the lungs and a lot of muscle aches and pain. You feel as though you’ve been hit by a truck.”
“Flu vaccine provides protection against type A and B. Some flu cases can progress to have bacterial infection, then, antibiotics are recommended. Antibiotics are designed to work against bacterial infection, not viruses.” Dawar says that adults can be bedridden when the flu symptoms set in. The seasonal flu is an acute respiratory infection caused by types A, B and C influenza viruses, with type A and B being most common, she explains.
While weak immunity plays a major role in flu illness, other factors include underlying health conditions, poor living conditions (e.g. cramped homes) and indoor air quality. Recovery time for most people is between one to two weeks. High viral transmission tends to occur in crowded places like public transit, schools and care facilities.
The importance of getting the flu shot
“Flu viruses mutate from season to season and during the season. It’s a type of RNA virus that’s air prone in its replication and doesn’t replicate in its true form. In general, you need a new vaccine every season,”says Dawar. She advises the importance of getting a flu shot even after a flu recovery (if one was never taken during the season) as flu viruses are constantly mutating. Most vaccines, she adds, provide protection against three types of flu viruses, although the vaccine for children provides protection against four types.
Some protection is better than none
Dawar points out that even though a flu shot may not be 100 per cent effective for certain people, it still provides them with some defence against circulating viruses. This particularly applies to seniors whose immune systems tend to weaken over time and those who may have underlying health conditions. Groups running the highest risk of health complications, she says, are pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy, children under five, seniors, and individuals age five to 65 with underlying medical conditions.
Egg allergy and previous flu vaccine allergies
“Egg allergy is not a problem even for those with an anaphylactic reaction to eggs because the current vaccines are so pure. The minuscule amount of egg protein doesn’t trigger an allergic reaction,” Dawar explains. “For those with previous flu vaccine allergy, we recommend them to be assessed by an allergist and tested with the current season’s vaccine.” She adds that they can usually find a vaccine product that the individual can accept or tolerate.
The virulent bug is easily spread by contaminated hands and objects – an infected individual’s coughing, sneezing and talking – as tiny droplets of flu viruses are released into the air. “Hand wash throughout the year, especially when the viruses are in circulation. Cough and sneeze in a tissue or on your sleeves. The best prevention is to get your shot every season. Fresh vaccine arrives in October,” remarks Dawar.
Holistic approach to prevention and healing
The holistic approach to disease prevention has been around before the discovery of modern medicine. To boost your immune system and avoid getting ill, Dr. Nari Pidutti, naturopathic practitioner with Springs Eternal Natural Health Clinic in Vancouver suggests taking the renowned and better studied echinacea herb throughout the cold and flu season. She advises that studies have shown having adequate Vitamin D also helps with prevention.“In general, people get sick when they get run down. A good prevention would be adapting a healthy diet and lifestyle like eating your vegetables, reducing sugar intake, getting sufficient rest, managing your stress level, exercise and taking care of your body,” says Pidutti, who recommends trying one or a combination of herbs such as elderberry, andrographis and ginger when down with the flu, and see which one herb or mixture works best. Alternatively, she suggests trying Cold-FX or take a really hot bath, then wrap in sheets and try to break a sweat.