Prevention really is better than a cure when it comes to winter flu and colds. A few simple precautions can mean the difference between a miserable winter and a healthy one. Firstly, remember what your mom told you: wash your hands often and thoroughly.
“It’s hard to say what percentage of infectious diseases are spread by touch,” says Dr. Rich Zane, vice chair of Emergency Medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “But we do know that all the germs that cause illness are susceptible to soap and water and disinfectants. Washing your hands is the first line of defense against contracting cold and flu viruses.”
It’s not just about protecting yourself, though. If you have a cold or the flu, or even just a warning sniffle or sneeze, be socially responsible. “People have to exercise proper respiratory etiquette, and that means covering your cough or sneeze, always,” he adds.
Stemming the spread of germs and preventing epidemics benefits everyone in the long-term, particularly in stopping the mutation of germs into super viruses.
“When you are sick, stay home and keep your children out of school,” says Zane. “If someone comes into the ER with signs of a cold or flu they are asked to put a mask on. We continually wash our hands. It’s all basic stuff, but it works.”
Use your diet
“Strengthening your immune system with a diet loaded with immune-boosting foods is a cheap, simple strategy for preventing illness,” says Gloria Tsang, RD, founder of HealthCastle.com.
Stock up on
Yogurt for probiotics: “Look for Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus reuteri on the label. These have been scientifically shown to prevent colds by improving immune response.”
Citrus for vitamin C: “Dietitians actually recommend against a daily supplement. Instead, load up on oranges, kiwis, cantaloupe and strawberries, and only take supplements if you’ve got early symptoms of the flu.”
Mushrooms for beta-glucan: “Mushrooms have been shown to enhance [pathogen-eating] macrophage activity, which is critical in warding off infection. So, toss extra mushrooms in your pasta sauce, soups, stir-fries, casseroles, or pizza.”
Another reason to quit
Cigarette smokers aren’t going to like what Dr. Zane says about the much-maligned habit. “People who smoke are more susceptible to respiratory viruses. Smokers are less immunocompetent and smoking decreases lung function,” he says. “The lungs’ cilia act as a brush to sweep viruses and debris up and out of the lungs, and “smoking causes the cilia to become clogged with tar [so] they can’t do their job.”