As winter approaches here in Alaska, so does the dreaded flu season. The colder months often bring with them an uptick in colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19. And this is simply because the viruses tend to prefer cold, dry conditions. Thankfully, you can take proactive steps to fortify your immune system in order to increase your chances of staying healthy during this challenging time.
To prepare for flu season, let’s explore some effective strategies to support your immune system and ward off those winter woes.
Do you need a health checkup before the winter sets in? Reach out to Cama’i Community Health Center today to schedule an appointment.
Why Does the Flu Virus Affect So Many People Annually?
The flu virus, short for influenza, is a severe respiratory illness that affects many people annually due to several factors. First, an influenza virus infection is highly contagious. For example, influenza virus transmission can occur from person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, or talks. These tiny virus-containing droplets can travel through the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, leading to new infections.
Additionally, the virus can survive on surfaces for 24 to 48 hours, making it possible for people to contract the flu by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their faces.
The flu virus is also notorious for its ability to mutate rapidly. It has several different strains, including influenza A, B, and C, and within these categories, there are many subtypes and variants. These constant changes in genetic makeup are a survival mechanism that enables influenza viruses to proliferate. And this also means that our immune systems may not have encountered the exact strain before, making us susceptible to infection. This is why flu vaccines are reformulated each year to help fight seasonal influenza epidemics and to target the specific strains that experts predict will be most prevalent during a particular flu season.
At the end of the day, the ever-evolving nature of the influenza virus makes it challenging to develop long-lasting immunity — contributing to its widespread impact on populations each year.
Combating Seasonal Influenza by Supporting Your Immune System
Winter and flu season can present challenges to your immune system, but with a proactive approach, you can bolster your defenses and reduce your risk of flu complications.
Remember that individual health needs vary, so consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance on immune system support.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Proper nutrition is the foundation of a robust immune system. Focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help your body fight off infections. Pay special attention to vitamin C (found in citrus fruits, strawberries, and bell peppers) and vitamin D (which can be obtained from sunlight or supplements during the darker winter months).
Adequate hydration is essential for all bodily functions, including immune system function. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your body functioning optimally. Herbal teas and warm broths can also be soothing and hydrating during the cold season.
Quality sleep is crucial for a well-functioning immune system. Aim for seven to nine hours of restful sleep each night. Establishing a regular sleep schedule and creating a sleep-conducive environment can help improve sleep quality. Try to keep your room as dark, quiet, and comfortable as possible.
Engaging in regular physical activity can boost your immune system by promoting good circulation and reducing inflammation. Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling, is sufficient to reap these benefits. However, avoid overtraining, as excessive exercise can weaken your immune system.
Chronic stress can suppress the immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Implement stress-reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or spending time in nature. Finding healthy outlets for stress can significantly impact your immune health.
Practice Good Hygiene
Preventing the spread of germs is essential during flu season. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in public places or around sick individuals who are coughing or sneezing. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth.
Keep an eye on local health advisories and flu activity in your area. Consider getting a flu vaccine to reduce your risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to others.
How to Reduce the Risk of Catching the Flu
While there are no guaranteed self-remedies or supplements that can completely prevent the flu, there are several measures you can take to help reduce your risk of getting sick and support your immune system:
- Get a Flu Vaccine: The most effective way to prevent the flu is to get an annual flu shot. It can significantly reduce your risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
- Consider Supplements: Some supplements may help support your immune system, especially during the flu season. These can include:
- Vitamin C: Known for its immune-boosting properties, vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, strawberries, and supplements.
- Vitamin D: Adequate vitamin D levels are important for immune function. You can get it from sunlight, dietary sources, or supplements, particularly during the winter months.
- Zinc: This mineral plays a role in immune function and can be obtained through foods like nuts, seeds, and lean meats or in supplement form.
- Echinacea: Some people use echinacea supplements or herbal teas to support the immune system, although its effectiveness is still a subject of debate among experts.
- Avoid Close Contact: If you know someone who has the flu, try to avoid close contact with them to reduce your risk of exposure.
- Practice Respiratory Hygiene: Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and dispose of tissues properly. If you’re sick, consider wearing a mask to protect others.
Remember that while these measures can help reduce your risk of getting the flu, they do not guarantee immunity.
If you suspect you have the flu or have been exposed to someone with the virus, it’s essential to seek medical advice, as antiviral medications may be prescribed to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. Additionally, always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplements — especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.
Trust Cama’i Community Health Center for Keeping You Safe this Flu Season
If you’ve started experiencing flu symptom onset or are concerned about flu outbreaks in your community, it’s crucial to seek treatment or contact us to arrange flu vaccinations. Keep in mind that flu activity tends to rise during the winter months, so being proactive before winter arrives is essential.
At Cama’i, our primary care professionals are dedicated to improving public health among residents in our remote community who are dealing with moderate to severe flu symptoms. We understand that our remote community can sometimes hinder your access to necessary care, whether you need care for flu complications or other respiratory viruses. Remember, you don’t have to face flu viruses alone when you have access to our services.
To prevent influenza transmission this winter, choose Cama’i Community Health Center for your best care and treatment. Together, we can keep you healthy this winter.
Are you or your loved ones in need of a flu vaccine to prepare for peak flu season? Contact Cama’i Community Health Center today to schedule an appointment.