Avoiding the Dreaded Flu

There are so many advices going around these days on how to avoid the dreaded flu. Take this supplement, take the flu shot, cover your mouth when you cough, use this air filter, etc. Yes, advise those who are sick to stay home and practice cough etiquette. But what can you REALLY do, as the (still) healthy person, to avoid the flu.

Flu viruses are transmitted from person to person through droplets of respiratory secretions when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can travel in the air up to about 6 feet away. They are also spread when people touch something contaminated with it and then touch their mouth, eyes, or nose. Knowing this, what can you do to avoid it?

First, wash your hands often with soap and water. They’re going to get dry if you do this properly. Therefore, use lotion as well.  Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Clean objects, especially those frequently touched by many people, and follow with an EPA-registered disinfectant. Try to keep your distance from sick people. I know. That’s easier said than done. It still needs to be said.

Should you take those supplements to “build your immune system”? No supplement has been proven to “build the immune system” and prevent one from getting sick. Aside from supplements not being regulated (therefore, you may not really know what is really in them), they may cause unintended effects. Take for instance Vitamin C. You can get kidney stones from too much of it. Vitamin A in pregnancy is teratogenic at high doses. You can turn yellow from too much beta-carotene. Heck, even drinking lots of water has side effects. If you have heart failure or cirrhosis, please follow your doctor’s advice as usually you may be on fluid restriction. I have had patients with these conditions develop fluid in their lungs and developed difficulty breathing after being advised to drink lots of water by well-meaning friends, when I was still working in a hospital. Drinking lots of water will not prevent you from getting the flu.

What about air filters? There is nothing really available commercially (that is, available to regular consumers outside of the health care settings) that filters out influenza aerosols. It is not cost-effective since influenza is transmitted over relatively short distances as mentioned earlier.

Lastly, get your flu shot. It’s the best way to protect yourself. And, if you still end up getting the flu despite getting the shot, then at least your risk of dying from the flu is much less.