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Winter has finally arrived; and along with the stressors of the holidays, we also get an increased risk for colds and flu. Fortunately, the plant world is bursting with an abundance of protective compounds you can use to stay healthy. Along with a bit of common sense, these important botanical allies can go a long way toward keeping us well during the icy weather.
As we know, colds and flus are viral, not bacterial — although a secondary bacterial infection (pneumonia) can be a complication of a severe flu or other viral infection.
In this article, I discuss some of the basics to give you a good foundation of knowledge for navigating this season’s health obstacles. In my next article, on Tuesday, I’ll share some solutions from nature that help fortify your immune system and also offer direct antiviral (and antibacterial) actions.
Viral Or Bacterial
The differences between viruses and bacteria include:
- Bacteria are organisms, classified as living, one-celled entities. Some doubt that viruses can be considered living organisms. They are often thought to be “non-living” organic structures that merely interact with living organisms.
- Bacteria can grow on non-living surfaces and, when inside the body, generally live between their hosts’ cells and, in some cases, even inside host cells. Viruses, however, require a living host, a plant or animal, to multiply and they must infiltrate the cell and live inside it to perpetuate themselves. Viruses change a host cells’ genetic material from its normal functioning from to one that produces more of the virus. As a result, the host cell is destroyed and releases reproduced viruses that proceed to infect other cells. Viruses can live for a time outside of a host, but they can’t reproduce there.
- Antibiotics can kill bacteria, but they don’t affect viruses.
- Antiviral drugs can reduce the spread and propagation of viruses but can’t stop them completely. Vaccines can help prevent the spread of specific viruses or reduce the severity of disease but are shown to be only partially effective against the specific strains used.
Given these facts, it is easy to see why you need to take precautions to keep these invaders at bay. Knowing how they spread enables us to properly prepare against them.
How Flus And Colds Spread
Flu and cold viruses disperse mainly in the droplets released when people cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can infect other people within about a 6-foot radius.
The problem starts when these droplets are inhaled or land on people who are nearby. Less often, touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching one’s own mouth or nose can transmit viral particles. Public transportation, schools, crowded shopping malls, entertainment events, etc., put people in close proximity and increase the risk of transmission.
A person with the flu can infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. However, children may transmit a virus even after seven days.
Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. So you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you even know you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those people may still spread the virus to others. With a cold, people are most contagious for the first two to three days. A cold is usually not contagious after the first week.
As we know, the flu can lead to serious complications in some people, particularly those who have a compromised immune system. Complications include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic and/or inflammatory conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, arthritis, etc. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of those considered most vulnerable to more severe flu symptoms and complications. Always consult with your personal healthcare provider, who can make recommendations for prevention and treatment based on your individual situation.
Do You Have A Cold Or Flu?
Cold symptoms generally appear gradually, usually with low-grade or no fever and possibly with coughing, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and, occasionally, a headache. Mild fatigue and body aches may also occur.
In contrast, flu symptoms come on suddenly and include fever, chills, severe body aches, upset stomach, exhaustion and chest discomfort. A cough, if present, is usually dry and non-productive. Headaches are common, though sore throat is rare and there is no runny nose. With colds, symptoms usually peak in two to three days and resolve in seven to 10 days. The flu usually resolves in a week, although fatigue often lasts for several weeks. With children, a cough can last for more than 10 days and sometimes longer.
Is The ‘Stomach Flu’ Really The Flu?
Flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or parasites. These can sometimes be related to the flu but are rarely the main symptoms of flu. These problems occur more commonly in children than adults.
The flu vaccine is a controversial topic, with new studies raising some alarming data. An article in the May issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases reported these disturbing findings:
- The rate of documented influenza illness was not substantially different between those who received the vaccine and those who did not.
- Getting a vaccine during the previous season may have reduced the effectiveness of the vaccine given in the current season.
This study was done on a healthy population expected to exhibit the best immune response to a vaccine. In addition, other studies have shown that a prior year’s flu shot may no longer be protective over time because protective antibodies may decline. Talk with your healthcare provider about your personal situation and risks so you can make an informed decision. There are no vaccines for colds: They are caused by a large variety of viruses that are constantly mutating and changing.
With or without a vaccine, there are things you can do to enhance your own resistance, protect yourself and reduce symptoms and duration should an infection occur.
- Pay attention to your surroundings. If people are coughing or sneezing, keep your distance. Plan shopping times on non-rush hours, if possible, to minimize your exposure to large crowds.
- Wash your hands frequently with hot water and natural-based soap — not antibacterial soaps. These may contribute to antibiotic resistance. The mechanical action of hand washing does remove virus particles.
- Be wise and aware when you are out in public areas and events. Avoid touching your face. We often touch surfaces and forget about that contact. Touching your mouth or nose after touching a surface with pathogens can transfer viruses.
- Get adequate sleep to help your body repair and rejuvenate.
- Actively manage your stress levels with practices such as meditation, chi gong, tai chi, yoga and simple downtime.
- Keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand including trail mix, nuts and seeds, kale chips, fruit, hummus, and veggies, etc., so that you can minimize your sugar and junk food intake. Sugar has been shown to immediately suppress immune function. The suppression can last for hours after ingestion.
- Include healthy oils in your diet, such as coconut and olive oil. They increase your feelings of fullness, counteract inflammation and have antimicrobial properties.
- Include antiviral herbs in your cooking such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, turmeric, garlic and onion.
- Warm and hydrate yourself with botanical antivirals in the form of tea and soups.
In my next flu report, I will show you how to arm yourself with a comprehensive botanical and supplement regimen to support healthy immunity and reduce your susceptibility to viral and bacterial pathogens. Warmest wishes for a healthy and happy holiday season!
For more health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org.