"The swine flu is dangerous and spreads much faster than the usual seasonal flu. It's not being over-hyped, and everyone should take it seriously."
-Dr. Williams Schaffner, president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases-
I got my H1N1 vaccination last Wednesday when the medical center where I work made them available to employees without front-line patient contact.
Here's What I Wanted to Know About the Vaccine & H1N1
1. How long until the H1N1 vaccine takes effect? For adults it will take 7-8 days to provide protection. Children will take longer. The seasonal flu vaccine takes 10-14 days before it provides protection.
2. Common side effects? Most common is a sore arm, with possible redness & swelling. About 10-15% of people feel a little tired or get a headache. A low-grade fever is even possible. I had zero reaction--not even a sore arm. And for anyone still wondering--you can't get the flu from the vaccine.
3. Incubation period after you're exposed to the flu? It takes 1-2 days to get the flu after you're exposed, but it can take up to 4 days.
4. How long does H1N1 flu normally last? There will be a few days of feeling really bad--but most people will be back on the mend in 5 days.
5. How long is a person infectious? You can infect others from one day before you are even symptomatic, until about one week after symptoms first start. You can return to work 24 hours after the fever ends, but the weakened virus may still keeping shedding from nasal & cough secretions for days after.
To get answers to all your questions look here:
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Protecting Yourself from the Flu & Colds
I picked up the December 2009 Prevention magazine yesterday, and it had a terrific-advice-filled article written by Nancy Kalish: Flu-Proof Your Winter--How to Survive the Worst Cold and Flu Season in Half a Century. (maybe just a little exaggerated--but good advice none-the-less)
The best part is that it offers explanations of how certain foods, supplements, & practices work to help you prevent getting the flu or colds.
Here are some of the highlights:
Surprising Signs Your Immune System Needs a Boost!
- You drink well-water. Possibly 25 million Americans drink well water that contains more than the EPA safe level of arsenic--which can affect the immune response to H1N1. This arsenic-H1N1-connection research discovery came out of Dartmouth Medical School. The study was conducted on mice who were given arsenic-laced water to drink for 5 weeks, and then were inoculated with H1N1. The arsenic-laced water suppressed their immune systems and many died from H1N1, while all the mice who drank untainted water recovered completely. I guess it's time to get my well water tested!
- You eat too much sugar. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria was significantly hampered for up to 5 hours after eating 100 grams of sugar--the equivalent of 3 cans of soda. I (mostly) cut out sugar almost a year ago, and even the Halloween candy had no appeal for me this year. No colds this year, either!
- You're obese. Excess weight can cause hormone imbalances and inflammation that impairs the immune system's ability to fight infection. Having a BMI (body mass index) over 40 (morbidly obese) can put one at risk for becoming seriously ill with H1N1. I'm wondering if there is a connection between lower immunity in the obese, and their lower levels of Vitamin D absorption--less than 50% of normal.
- You have dry nasal passages. Get out the neti pot, Sinucleanse, NeilMed Sinus Rinse, a saline solution squeeze bottle, or the humidifier! If your nasal passages are too dry, viruses have an easier time invading. Irrigating your nasal passages provides a healthy environment for the tiny nose hairs to remove germs from the nose--which is really the first line of defense in keeping those germs out of your body. Read more here.
- You're dehydrated. Again--you need plenty of liquids to flush out the toxins, viruses & assorted germs. When your urine is pale yellow you're drinking enough. For my "How Much Water Do You Really Need?" post click here.
- You get a lot of colds. If you're getting more colds than everyone else--chances are your immune system is under-performing! The Average: Adults get 1-3 colds per season--and they last 3-4 days.
- You're always stressed. It's no surprise that an American Psychological Association report states that long-term stress weakens the response of the immune system. According to Philip Tierno, PhD director of clinical microbiology and immunology at the New York University, "If you become stressed while you have the flu, your symptoms can get worse."
Boost Your Immune System With These Foods
- Probiotics. Lactobacillus reuteri is a probiotic shown to stimulate the infection-fighting white blood cells. In a study of shift workers in Sweden, those taking L. reuteri took 33% fewer sick days than those in the control group. In August 2009 the journal Pediatrics reported on a Chinese study where the children taking the probiotic Lactobacillus Bifidobacterium in combination with Bifidobacterium animalis got sick less, recovered faster, and needed less antibiotics than the control group. The probiotic combo used in the Pediatrics study is now being marketed as HOWARU Protect, by Danisco of Madison, Wisconsin. (I don't know a thing about this product--but it sounds interesting!) Elizabeth Somers, an RD recommends looking for products that contain Lactobacillus acidophilus, as well as L. Bifidus, and L. rhamnosus.
- Garlic. In a study published in Advances in Therapy, subjects taking a garlic capsule for 12 winter weeks were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold or had a cold of shorter duration than the control group. The allicin in the garlic is the active ingredient--a potent fighter of infections & bacteria. Elizabeth Somers, RD says eating the "real thing" beats capsules--add 1-3 cooked cloves to your food each day! The conservative Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews recently said garlic has promise but more studies are needed.
- Black Tea. Out of a Harvard study comes news that 5 cups of tea a day will get your T-cells to produce 10 times more interferon--the protein that will fight cold and flu infections. Supposedly green tea will do the same.
- Mushrooms. They've got more than 300 compounds that will increase the production of white blood cells and boost your immune system. The #1 mushrooms for boosting immunity are: shiitake, maitake, & reishi.
- Omega-3s or fatty fish. A study by Britain's Institute of Human Nutrition found that the omega-3s (get them in supplements, leafy greens, or fatty fish) are shown to increase phagocyte activity--which destroys bacteria & can fight flu. Other research has shown that the omega-3s can increase airflow & protect the lungs from colds & respiratory infections; the DHA & EPA enable cell membranes to more efficiently absorb nutrients & remove toxins; and fish contains selenium which helps the white bloods cells clear viruses. Aim for 1 gram a day of an omega-3 supplement, or 3 servings of fatty fish a week.
Boost Your Immune System With These Supplements
- Vitamin D. My all-time favorite comes to the rescue once more! In a study that followed subjects for 3 years published in Epidemiology and Infection, those who took 2,000 IUs of vitamin D had 70% few colds and flu than the control group. For more on vitamin D read my latest post: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Vitamin D from the Expert, Dr. Michael Holick. How Much Do We Need? Why Is It So Hard to Get Enough? What About Breast-Fed Babies? Why Is It So Important for Good Health?
- Cold-fX. In a study conducted by the Center for Immunotherapy of Cancer & Infectious Diseases at the University of Connecticut, subjects who took 2 daily capsules of Cold-fX, which contains a North American ginseng extract, got 50% less colds or had colds that lasted half as long as the control group. This type of ginseng works by increasing the white blood cells & interleukins, which boost the immune system.
- Zinc. According to Dr. David Katz, the director of Yale's Prevention Research Center, "30 mg of zinc taken at the very start of a cold will shorten it by about half a day." Again, the zinc helps in the production of white blood cells. Take too much, like more than 50 mg daily, and you risk suppressing your immune system, and blocking the absorption of other essential minerals. I'm a fan of
Boost Your Immune System With Sleep & Exercise
- Moderate Exercise. Out of a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, regular moderate exercise decreases the risk of upper-respiratory infections. It does this by increasing blood flow, speeding nutrients to your cells, and decreasing immune-depressing stress hormones. For an excellent article on how exercise can help, or hamper your immune response, read Gretchen Reynolds' recent article in the New York Times. Click here.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Just one night of "not enough" sleep will depress your immune system. In a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine--when 153 healthy subjects were exposed to a cold virus, those who slept more than 7 hours a night during the preceding 14 days reduced their risk of contracting the cold by 300%. And make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep before you get your flu vaccination. In a JAMA study, men who only got 4 hours of sleep the night before a vaccination developed only half the usual number of antibodies.
Simple Ways to Protect Yourself from Cold & Flu Viruses
- Wash often and wash well. Washing your hands often, and making a conscious effort to avoid touching your face, is your best defense against the cold & flu. That means soap & water on every surface of your hands, and under your nails for a full 20 seconds--which is a quite a long time. It's singing the Happy Birthday Song two times and not too fast! And the latest word is that washing your hands with cold water is just as good as washing them with hot water. Of course we all know to use a paper towel in a public restroom to turn the water on & off, and when exiting the bathroom. And it's important to dry your hand really well. Sounds like overkill--but experts advise it! If you can't wash, use an antibacterial gel or foam with at least 60% alcohol. It will remove the cold germs, and dissolve the outer layer of the flu virus, according to Philip Tierno, PhD of NYU.
- Don't share toothpaste tubes. Never thought of this one--but it's good advice. People touch their toothbrush to the opening of the tube all the time, passing along germs.
- Paper towels rule! We do this in our home. Replace the hand towels in the bathrooms with paper towels, especially during cold & flu season. At work, use paper towels to open the community fridge, microwave, the bathroom faucets, & to exit the bathroom.
- Sanitize at work, the gym, and in hotel rooms. There are more germs on shared computers, phones, and desktops than on the average toilet seat. If you share equipment at work, wipe them down with disinfectant or sanitizing wipes before using them. The same goes before & after using shared gym equipment, including hand weights, yoga mats, and spinning bikes. In a hotel room, disinfect the remote control (the germiest item in the room), the clock radio, light switches, and door handles.
- Use anything but your hands. For elevator buttons, ticketing machines, or ATMs use a key, a pencil, or a gloved hand. Think elbows or hips for opening doors. And keep your hands off of escalator and staircase railings! They're just teeming.
- The 5-foot rule. Keep 5 feet away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing--because gravity is forcing the droplets to fall, rather than travel farther away. If you see someone who is obviously sick--sneezing or coughing--when you're on a train or bus, try to sit at least 3 rows away. Too bad it's not possible to do this on an airplane.
You might find this hard to believe, but I'm really not a germ-a-phobe who is armed with Lysol wipes! I'd rather concentrate my energy on just staying healthy--rather than worrying about hidden germs. It seems to have worked so far.
So many of these practices are just good common sense. Many I've adopted over the years--and a number are brand-new to me--and definitely worth a try. Can't hurt!