In case you haven’t heard, the 2018-2019 flu season is upon us and in full swing. The flu is an extremely common and contagious illness caused by the influenza virus. Contracting the flu and leaving it untreated can lead to pneumonia, bacterial infections, and potential hospitalization. Currently, the annual epidemic is considered “widespread;” there have been outbreaks of influenza in at least half of the regions of the state, with lab evidence. The peak of flu season is December through February, meaning we’re in the eye of the storm! We’re going to explore how to best avoid the flu and other lifestyle choices you can make to take care of yourself this winter.
Did you know that nearly 260 people died in 2017 in Pennsylvania from the flu? So far in the 2018-2019 season, 6,435 cases have been reported, with 8 cases ending in death. The highest flu activity in Pennsylvania this season has been seen in the southeast regions (that’s us!). How can we avoid the flu? How can we treat it if we think we have it? What are the best ways to take care of ourselves while we’re under the weather?
Minimize Your Exposure
There are many ways you can lower your risk of contracting the flu this season! For starters, you could get a flu shot. We do recommend that you check with your doctor to make sure this route is right for you. Flu shots trigger antibodies to develop in your body that offer protection against all of the strains of influenza. These shots may have side effects, but they are not flu-related.
If the flu shot isn’t right for you, you can help yourself by getting into better health habits. The flu can spread through the air (sneezing, coughing, and even talking) and through physical contact. Be sure to wash your hands regularly, avoid touching your face, eyes, and mouth, and clean surfaces frequently. If you develop symptoms, it is advised to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever goes away. This is to ensure that the virus is fully out of your system.
It’s also important to maintain your immune system to avoid getting sick (or making your illness worse). For instance, eat lots of fruits and vegetables to get the nutrients you need. Be sure to get plenty of sleep (7-8 hours is ideal) and reduce stress (easier said than done, but here are some tips). Finally, a way to avoid the flu and other illness is to consider quitting smoking. Smokers have a more exaggerated response to viruses and can contract higher tissue damage and inflated inflammation, even after the virus is gone. We can also teach our kids to be more health conscious and careful about germs. Kids, like us, should cover their mouths with tissues (no sleeves!) when coughing and sneezing. Keep yourself and your kids well-stocked with hand sanitizer and packs of tissues for flu season.
Listen to Your Body
Already have your routine down pat? For some, it’s hard to stop exercising once you’re in a pattern. When you’re sick, however, exercise isn’t always the answer. Light to moderate activity can help, though! If your symptoms are confined to your head (sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, earache), exercising at a lower impact than usual is okay. Tread lightly and try yoga, walking, or your usual routine with a decreased intensity. If exercising ends up making you feel lousier, stop and rest until you’re well. While we love it when you visit our facilities, we ask that you take extra care when you visit the YMCA when under the weather. Wash your hands, wipe down equipment, and apply hand sanitizer frequently.
What’s for Lunch?
It’s not atypical that the flu lessens your appetite, but eating small amounts of food can provide you with the proper energy and nutrition you need to kick the sick. Drinking broth, whether it’s chicken, vegetable, or beef, can soothe a sore throat and clear your sinuses and other congestion. If broth is too boring for you, chicken soup is good for the soul (so I hear) and provides iron, protein, and nutrients. Stay cautious of canned soups and consider picking one with less sodium! Too much sodium can assist with dehydration. You may also indulge in nature’s Zicam®, also known as garlic. Garlic is fantastic for when you are just developing flu symptoms and has been known to halt illness in its tracks.
Other good foods to eat while sick with the flu are yogurt, leafy greens, broccoli, and oatmeal. Yogurt’s live cultures can boost your immune system and many brands offer a ton of protein. Leafy greens, broccoli, and oatmeal provide vitamins, antioxidants, and more. If the flu is affecting your tummy, you may want to consider sticking to bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast: the BRAT diet. While those foods can help aid someone plagued by flu symptoms, it’s important to keep in mind what’s not for lunch. Foods to avoid include alcohol, caffeinated beverages, hard foods (crackers, chips, etc.), and processed foods. They may taste great and curb hunger for the moment, but they can make you feel even worse and can slow down the weakening of the virus.
Stay safe this flu season and know when to rest. Visit a doctor if you are developing flu symptoms and allow your health care professional to treat it accordingly. When in doubt, stay inside with a blanket, warm socks, and a cup of warm soup.
—Madeline Kelly, Digital Communications Coordinator