Having the flu can be a nasty, serious, potentially deadly business. An age old companion-adversary to our human race, it's like the ocean - something we can never safely turn our back on. But like other recurring and unavoidable risks in life, we do best to take it on directly, as vigilantly and responsibly as we can.
The following are some robust, straightforward, science based measures against flu I've encountered in my 35 years as an RN. I've wanted to write these down for some time now, and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed me to finally do that.
Although COVID-19 isn't the same as flu, they do share common features. Both are infectious viral respiratory illnesses, that can also cause inflammation elsewhere in the body ; and both can be deadly to the most vulnerable. This said, there should be no measure for flu here that won't also be helpful with COVID. Some are specific care and proactive measures, others more general and constitutional - but don't underestimate their value to many aspects of your life and health.
Reduce viral concentrations in the air and on surfaces
It's impossible to avoid exposure to viruses and bacteria entirely - and in fact, not even desirable. When we're in general good health, routine, moderate exposures to these organisms actually stimulate the immune system, and make it stronger. Attempts to create an antiseptic, contact free environment will in the long term weaken it, and are therefore misplaced. Highly concentrated, overwhelming exposures, however, are another story.
When viral or bacterial concentrations are high in the air or on surfaces, our chances of being infected increase ; and if we're infected and fall ill, our symptoms will likely be more severe. Persons with serious pre-existing health conditions, or with chronically weakened immune systems should therefore be protected from such exposures, and take special care to protect themselves - especially during peak seasons. Here are some time tested ways to do this :
Social distancing : avoid extended close contact with others in crowded places - especially if the space is confined or poorly ventilated.
- Wash hands consistently/frequently/well with soap and water. Do this as a general personal routine, especially in peak infection seasons, and after touching possibly contaminated surfaces. When in public places, use hand sanitizers offered to you.
- Avoid unnecessary contact with such surfaces whenever possible, and with your own face and hair.
- Turn coughs and sneezes into an elbow or shoulder if caught by surprise, while turning away from any persons nearby.
- Mask - conscientiously - at the first sign of symptoms ; and if you know or feel yourself to be especially vulnerable.
- Stay home when you're sick or symptomatic - or if you're highly vulnerable, during peak seasons altogether.
- Ventilate closed spaces regularly. Just open windows, weather permitting, and air them through to reduce viral/bacterial concentrations. In older cultures this is just part of daily life - airing rooms briefly (5-10 minutes) morning, evening and bedtime. In Europe I've seen this done even in schools and hospitals !
These measures keep germs out of you - and out of people around you. They make excellent sense, and can be turned into habits without trouble. They'll reduce spread of infection at any time - but double down on these precautions in peak infection seasons.
Having said this I should add that fear of germs and illness, if extreme, is like any other fear : if not dealt with, it wears on the immune system, and is known to predispose to illness - including infectious ones.
Secret weapon against the flu : WARMTH
Here are some preventive and care measures you may not hear much emphasized for flu (or Coronavirus), but that improve your odds to avoid infections - or if infected, to escape with a milder case :
Most people today are unable to maintain the normal human body temperature of 98.6 degrees. Besides being an ideal habitat for infectious disease organisms, low body temperature is also a hallmark symptom in cancer.
Give your body every chance to FIGHT
As much as possible, therefore, let fever do its healing work. In the meantime, keep hydrated with water, warm herbal teas and other non-sugary drinks ; and keep yourself supplied with needed electrolytes, through clear broths and soups.
Add to these measures a lukewarm sponge bath during higher fevers, and ride them out safely and with minimal discomfort until they "break" naturally. For higher or prolonged fevers (over 102.5 and rising, with weakness and discomfort) seek help - but generally speaking, fever is your friend.
When you have an infectious disease with fever - or any highly inflammatory condition - reduce heavier kinds and quantities of food, especially dairy, fat and protein. Reduced food intake frees your body's forces to fight the infection, and often it will signal this need with reduced appetite.
Cooked fresh or fermented vegetables, vegetable and chicken soups are all supportive during fever, without being overburdening. Resume an upbuilding diet once fever has passed - but don't "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" through dietary excesses !
Stealth killer in viral infections : INFLAMMATION
As noted, sugar is not your friend during the flu - or during any infectious illness. Disease organisms thrive on this easy nutrition ; and it also contributes to excessive inflammation - among the more dangerous features of these illnesses.
Runaway inflammatory processes are in fact the main cause of death in COVID-19 infection. This is an internal process between the immune system and the organism - but again, our own actions can tip the balance either way. Besides sugar, highly salty and spicy foods can also contribute to inflammation. Artificial sweeteners have their own problems, and should also be avoided at these times.
Secret measures only nurses know !
Here are some more measures you may not have considered :
If the flu (or COVID) kill you, it will most likely be by attacking your lungs ; and perhaps their most important pathway into your lungs are something called micro-aspirations. "Swallowing the wrong way" is the form of micro-aspiration we're most familiar with, but small amounts of secretions actually slip into our lungs all the time - especially in older people.
Our mouth, noses, noses, throats and sinuses are never the cleanest parts of our bodies ; and when colonized with disease organisms, they present real dangers. Most deaths from COVID-19 and flu start with disease related lung infection ; and mouth care is an important way to keep these organisms out !
The simple but essential program : meticulous mouth care - flossing, brushing and a suitable mouthwash - three times a day after meals and at bedtime. Leading experts - and hospital infection control teams - actually consider this the most important bronchitis and pneumonia preventive measure for hospitalized patients !
Pooled secretions in the sinuses, whether due to colds, flu or seasonal allergies, form a rich medium for disease organisms to thrive and reproduce. Related post nasal drip makes us prone to micro-aspirations, especially at night when we're asleep, and is a risk factor for throat, bronchial and lung infections.
When secretions build up significantly, irrigation reduces this risk in two ways :
First, it loosens secretions (with disease organisms in them), and washes them away mechanically.
Secondly, the solutions used for this purpose are formulated to draw fluids out of sinus membranes (swollen, for instance, due to colds, allergies etc) ; thus also effectively irrigating "from the inside out". These additional fluids, plus reduction of membrane swelling, help both to open sinus passages, and clear them of their contents. Some people irrigate using a nettie pot or a reliable, widely available irrigation kit - see link below
I can share a notable personal experiences in this regard. Have you ever had the kind of sore throat where, when you swallow, it feels literally as if you have rocks in your throat ? I've had this painful symptom several times where, after irrigating and clearing my sinuses, the pain simply disappeared. Full caution and the attention of a doctor are of course indicated if symptoms persist - but in these cases, the relief was prompt - and remarkable.
Dry coughing in the early phases of flu (also of COVID-19) can be exhausting, so a first important things to learn is how to contain a cough. Best practice in this case is to hold a firm stabilizing pressure with your hands - and/or a pillow - over both your upper abdomen and chest. To protect others, of course, cough into the pillow, your sleeve or your shoulder. Again, appropriate fluids are your friend, both to loosen secretions and avoid dehydration
Secretions in your lungs can become abundant - and dangerous - during these illnesses, and there's both an art and science to moving them out. This is best done by a technique called huffing.
Huffing is something to do before you try to clear secretions by coughing, and makes that process much more efficient. This is something nurses were formerly taught in their training (younger nurses, please report in if this is still so !) ; and the technique can be found in older nursing textbooks.
First, hold your upper abdomen and chest as you would to cough ; then contract your diaphragm strongly, while at the same time exhaling deeply. Do this cautiously, experimenting with shorter and longer, deeper and more shallow exhalation, more and less force - taking care not to make yourself dizzy or out of breath ! With practice you'll learn to direct this skillfully, to clear different lung areas as needed.
To end this section, I've purposely save "cough medicines" for last. The best are those that not only suppress cough (important for the night), but have an expectorant effects - simply put, loosening secretions so you can cough them up. You can of course ask your doctor about this, but there are also excellent natural, herbal and holistic cough syrups - I'll share some we've found helpful on the promised linked page.
Caution : pneumonia can be felt as heaviness, discomfort and/or pain deep in the chest, with rapid respirations and shortness of breath. Pneumonia in both lungs can easily be fatal - quickly. Symptoms as noted should never be ignored, especially if experienced at bedtime - and require a doctor's immediate attention.
Reduce PREDISPOSING FACTORS to flu complications and deaths
Not everyone realizes that the symptoms of flu are due not to the virus itself, but to the powerful reactions of our immune system as it attacks the organism. After such an illness the immune system creates antibodies to the virus so that when we're exposed again, we can recognize and fight it without such extreme reactions.
There are things we can do to strengthen and support our immune system - and also things we do that weaken and damage it. We can learn about these factors, and to take more effective responsibility for them.
Further decisive factors in how seriously flu affects us are preexisting health conditions. Factors known to increase COVID-19 complications include obesity, hypertension, diabetes, diseases of the lungs and of the coronary arteries. While there are differences between COVID and flu, these conditions also make the flu more dangerous. Measures that reduce your risk from these factors are a good way to begin self care efforts. Here are some places to start :
These measures form just an outline, but offer a real path to improved resistance and resilience in the face of seasonal flu. They can be summarized as a commitment to add positive measures and habits to your life at every opportunity ; and subtract harmful influences one by one. Below you'll find some more detailed steps and measures on that path !
A Modest VITAMIN AND MINERAL Protocol for Flu
Here's a very straightforward program of vitamins and mineral I've seen recommended for flu. It came with numerous research citations, and after reviewing these, I trust it :
1) Take Vit D 5-10,000 IU/day to get your level above 50 ng/mL. This has also been reported to be a sweet spot to prevent COVID-19 mortality. Ideally, keep your level between 60 and 80 for overall health. The data so far indicates a fairly direct relationship between COVID severity/fatality and Vit D deficiency. A large proportion of severe COVID cases appear to occur in patients with D levels below 30, yet there is still extremely little national conversation on supplementation.
2) Take Zinc 50mg/day and increase to twice a day if you feel viral symptoms. Zinc historically has been shown to reduce the severity of viral infection, and in COVID has also appeared to show lower mortality in hospitalized patients - but here also, there's been little national conversation.
3) Take Quercetin 500mg/day and increase to twice a day if you feel viral symptoms. Quercetin assists in the transport of Zinc into the cells where it suppresses viral replication.
4) Take Vit C 2-4,000 mg/day and increase to twice a day if you feel viral symptoms.
Natural Supplements & Wellness Measures : Our Picks !
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Jeff Smith RN, born 1950. A registered nurse since 1984 - but holistic in my outlook to health since probably around 1968. Living Waters Wellness considers not just the health of the physical body, but our soul and spirit, our social forms, our environment - and as a matter of fact, our whole earth. It's a new website, and a work in progress - but by all means, have a look around !