With summer coming to a rapid end, the kids will soon head back to school and thoughts will turn to the long cold days of winter. Of course, along with winter comes flu season and for many Canadians, the flu can be either a mild annoyance or a serious illness.
Influenza is a virus that takes many forms. Prevailing strains of flu virus will differ from season to season and no two flu viruses are alike.
While there is a lot media attention paid to the dangers of the flu, the reality is most cases of the flu are relatively mild and tend to resolve themselves over time.
The flu virus is an opportunistic organism and tends to produce symptoms mainly in those with weak immune systems such as the sick and elderly.
One important fact that is often missed by the media is that healthy people can also be carriers of the flu without actually being sick or showing symptoms.
Its well known that in the young or old, healthy or sick, flu shot or not, the actual flu virus can live on hands, under fingernails, and within the respiratory tract of healthy people.
While the flu shot is often touted as the most effective way to prevent the flu, vaccination does not prevent an individual person from carrying the virus on their person and transferring it to someone else. Consequently, the flu virus can be spread by sneezing or through touch, with or without active infection.
Also, vaccination may not be the most effective way to prevent the flu in the first place. According to independent research conducted by the Cochrane Database Review: “At best, vaccines might be effective against only influenza A and B, which represent about 10 percent of all circulating viruses.”
While there is some evidence showing the effectiveness of vitamin D and other natural supplements, the single most effective way to prevent the flu or any virus, is through good hygiene.
The Mayo clinic has recommended a proper hand washing technique of 30 seconds of vigorous scrubbing with warm water. Antibacterial soaps are not necessary to achieve this effect. Alcohol based hand sanitizers are somewhat less effective but still good when hand washing is not available.
When it comes to preventing the flu, it can sometimes be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Hand washing, proper hygiene, staying home when you get sick, and trying to keep your immune system strong throughout the winter months are time tested methods to prevent the spread of the flu. As always, your best defence against the flu is a good offence.