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Every winter flu myths abound, leaving confusion in their wake. Dr Sandi Nye helps you sort out the facts from the fiction.
It’s that time of your year again and you are doing your best to give everybody who has a red nose and weepy eyes a wide berth. What, you wonder, is the best way to avoid getting the flu this winter? Well, a little knowledge goes a long way in staying healthy.
MYTH: FLU IS SPREAD ONLY THROUGH THE AIRBoth the flu and the common cold are viral illnesses that are droplet-spread and contagious. Remember: Coughs and sneezes spread diseases! Flu is caused by various influenza viruses, e.g. influenza strains type A, B or C, while the common cold is caused by a wide range of viruses, most commonly adenovirus or coronavirus. Both infections can rapidly spread from person to person, either from inhaling the virus from the air, from touching, or from sharing contaminated items such as eating utensils, tissues, etc.
FACT: FLU IS NASTIER THAN A COLDFlu usually comes on much faster than a cold, and can pole-axe one within hours of the symptoms starting. Flu can therefore be much more debilitating than a cold, as it generally has more severe symptoms. Though both conditions can share symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, congestion, coughing, headache and a sore throat, flu is likely to add high fever, chills, body aches and fatigue to the mix. While a cold can make you feel blah, flu is likely to make you feel like you’re walking uphill in a wind tunnel! Both conditions can last about a week, but post-flu effects can linger and make one feel below par for up to a month.
MYTH: ANTIBIOTICS WILL HELPAntibiotics are not effective against viruses, since they are designed for treating bacterial infections. It’s important to take care to ensure that you don’t develop a secondary bacterial infection, like pneumonia, when you have flu, since that is a potentially serious complication that is best to avoid if possible. Probiotics, on the other hand, have been shown to help decrease the duration of these infections.
FACT: NATURAL REMEDIES WORK BESTA natural option to assist the body in coping with flu and colds in my experience is the homeopathic remedy, Oscillococcinum, especially when combined with Echinacea, zinc and fairly high doses of vitamin C. That combo, taken at the first signs of cold or flu, along with a hot toddy at night (made with lemon, fresh ginger and some honey) is a favourite DIY option that has stood many folk in good stead when it comes to knocking colds and flu on the head. Inhaling essential oils, whether via a tissue or an oil diffuser (preferably a cold-air diffuser not a heat-based burner) can also be very beneficial, since there are some wonderful oils with potent antiviral properties. Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora) is my ultimate go-to oil for winter respiratory ailments, as it’s safe for young and old – but there are others like eucalyptus, tea tree, thyme, frankincense and lemon that are also helpful.
MYTH:EVERYONE SHOULD GET THE FLU SHOTThere are two schools of thought as to whether it is absolutely necessary to have a flu vaccination every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everybody over the age of six months should get the jab while other medical professionals believe that only those classified as high-risk population groups who have lung or heart disease, HIV/AIDS and liver or kidney conditions need to have the vaccination.
FACT: A STRONG IMMUNE SYSTEM IS THE BEST PREVENTATIVENaturopathy ascribes to the notion that prevention is better than cure, so 1st prize in combatting winter ailments is to ensure that, as a starter, your immune system is strong enough to deal with whatever comes your way. But if you do succumb to flu you can get over it fairly rapidly if you take quick action.
MYTH: EAT LIGHTLY‘Feed a cold, starve a fever’: In nature-cure speak this means that you need to give your body a break from its normal processing by limiting sugar, dairy and wheat, since these are considered immune system depressants. Rather focus on eating lightly (soup with garlic and herbs) and drinking lots of fluid (water, herbal teas, diluted green juices).
CONCLUSIONIt’s no good being a Typhoid-Mary and going to work, as this is likely to spread the virus to your colleagues – rather stay at home and rest for a day or two. If you take sensible action chances are you should be able to get over colds and flu with minimal down-time.
DR SANDI NYE, ND.
Tel: 021 531 3545
She is a naturopath with a special interest in aromatic and integrative medicine. She is multi-registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA), and represents Naturopathy on the AHPCSA Professional Board for Homeopathy, Naturopathy and Phytotherapy. She serves as editorial board member and/or consultant for various national and international publications. She is in private practice in Pinelands, Cape Town.
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