Spring Breaking You with Flu

Spring break is a wonderful time, unless your a pharmacist. I was looking at our flu encounters the past couple of years and noticed the trend the my immunology professor warned me about, and something I began to notice while in college: flu spikes during or right after spring break.flu

Now this spike is as big as the initial outbreak that occurs in late December or early January, but there is a definite uptick in flu cases at our clinic and we start handing out Tamiflu for a week or two. Here is one article talking about it:

 

 

http://www.pantagraph.com/news/local/spring-backward-will-break-mean-an-increase-in-flu/article_3355debf-3f97-5051-a194-ab496ee292a7.html

It discusses that many people may not be traveling this year due to the weather problems we’ve been having and travel is usually part of the problem.

Spring break is not usually a time you think about getting sick. It is usually about vacationing and relaxing. I don’t recommend the spring breaking most college co-eds seem to be engaged in but that’s another article. Here are a few things to remember when going on spring break, if you go at all.

1. Wash hands – This mantra should be applied all the time no matter where you are. People touch their faces more than they realize and washing hands is a good way to help not only the flu but also many other problems.

2. Don’t binge drink – Binge drinking has been shown to lower immune response by stopping certain cytokine release and inflammation processes which leave you vulnerable to infection. Here is an article on it:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/164391.php

If you drink, do it in moderation and please don’t drink and drive.

3.Keep up on the vitamin D – I know this is a controversial subject for some but vitamin D has been shown to help keep the immune system functioning properly. Seeing as how the sun’s rays still aren’t strong enough, at least up here in the north, to produce vitamin D in the body, supplementation is required. Cod liver is a good way to start because of the Vitamin A that is present.

4. Rest – While I’m ready to enjoy spring break just like anyone else it’s important to not overdo it. Mostly I mean by staying up till the wee hours of the morning and then going at it hard again the next day, doing whatever it is you’re doing. Getting enough sleep is important for the immune system so don’t sell yourself short.

sleep

Don’t underestimate a good night’s sleep

 

 

 

 

 

5. Eat good food – Funny how these all sound like the stuff you need to prevent flu in the first place. Oh wait, they are! Eating lots of junk, especially sugar will leave you vulnerable as, you guessed it, the immune system is affected. Eating some tasty treats or some good burgers is a must during a break, but don’t over do it.

6. Don’t use Spring Break to stress – If you’re doing lots of work or trying to do extra ( which is unlikely as the kids will be home) the stress will hammer your immune system. Making the kids do the work is a much better use of time 🙂

Have a great Spring Break!

CIAO

Gingerly Attacking the Flu

gingerGinger is a treatment that has been used for a long time for a variety of things. Some can use it for nausea and vomiting, especially in pregnancy. It has also been used as a digestive aid and anti-inflammatory.

Today we’ll look at its effect on the immune system and how that affects flu and colds.

In a study looking at fresh ginger and dried ginger, researchers used assays to see if human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) would cause plaque formations in respiratory mucosal cell lines. In short the fresh ginger seemed to work by decreasing the plaque formation. Ginger also decreased viral attachment and internalization and higher concentrations could stimulate IFN-beta to possibly counteract the infection. 1

I think it’s important to remember that fresh ginger and not powdered ginger is what worked. This makes sense because in fresh foods there are chemicals that are active that disappear over time and will make the treatment ineffective. Garlic is very similar. Allicin in garlic is present in fresh garlic when the garlic is crushed. This goes away when dried and may be one reason why dried garlic doesn’t seem to work well in the studies of them.

Speaking of….

Garlic is another thing you can do to help prevent the flu or colds. In a Cochrane review of garlic they concluded that people that take garlic regularly have fewer incidences of colds then controls. It was a small trial they reviewed because many others didn’t meet their criteria. 2

So what do we do with this info? A few things.

First for Ginger

If you think you might be getting a cold or the flu, get some ginger, a lot, and juice it. If you don’t have a juicer then cut it up and make some tea with it. If you have the juice you can mix it with some lemon and maybe a little honey. Sip on that for a few hours, don’t down it all at once. Make some more when it’s gone and do that for a day or two. You’ll feel better. It is quite strong.

And for garlic

garlicTake a small clove and crush it. You can chew it if you want but like the ginger it is quite strong. Swallow whole or minced. If your stomach is sensitive then have it with some food. Just make sure it is crushed in some way. Don’t used pre-minced garlic. Make sure it’s fresh. The only two side effects I can think of for this are upset stomach (so take it with food if it causes this) and of course garlic odor. This is better to do as prevention than treatment in my opinion and based on the study but you could certainly use it for treatment. The most important thing is that you start right away. Don’t wait 48 hours and then decide you should try something. The sooner you can prevent more viruses from adhering and spreading, the faster you’ll be able to nip those nasty viruses in the butt.

 

Rest

If you feel like a cold or flu is coming on, get some rest. I know some people can’t avoid going to work or doing other things in life you just have to do, but if you can, lie down and sleep and relax and let your immune system do its thing early rather than stressing it for another 12-15 hours during the day. Remember that stress is a killer of you, not the flu.

Enjoy your winter season wherever you are and remember to stay safe from flu and colds.

CIAO

  1. Chang, Jung San, et al. “Fresh ginger (< i> Zingiber officinale</i>) has anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines.” Journal of ethnopharmacology (2012).

http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD006206/garlic-for-the-common-cold

Smacking Down Influenza

fluThe flu is a royal pain in the butt! I mean ROYAL! Anyone that has had it will know this is true. It is the beginning of flu season. I’ve been seeing cases in the pharmacy and people are coming to get their Tamiflu to help stop the flu in its tracks. Another problem during this season is colds. Viruses are flying everywhere and susceptible people are getting hammered. What can we do? Plenty.

First, about Tamiflu. For starters it is plenty expensive and the best it could do in a Cochrane Review was a reduction of symptoms by 21 hours. Now I know 21 hours is a day for a person and that can make a difference for some, the problem is the Cochrane group found no reductions in hospitalizations or transmission of the virus. That means whether you get the drug or not, your chances of going to the hospital are the same and from what we can tell now your chances of spreading it are the same.

On top of this much of the data for anti flu medications like Tamiflu (oseltamavir) have not even been published. According to the Cochrane group,

“We identified that a large number of studies, including data from 60% of the people who have been involved in randomised, placebo-controlled phase III treatment trials of oseltamivir, have never been published. This includes the biggest treatment trial ever undertaken on oseltamivir that on its own included just over 1,400 people of all ages,” noted Jefferson. “We are concerned that these data remain unavailable for scrutiny by the scientific community.”1
In other words, they’ve done a bunch of trials and aren’t publishing them. What gives? Maybe it’s not as effective as they claim, but without the trials we really just don’t know.

So if you’re wanting other ideas for dealing with the flu this wintery season, here are a few tips.

Wash Your Hands

You’ve all heard this and it’s true. You need to wash your hands regularly, especially around meal times. If you’re in a public place and touch a doorknob or handle or anything else somebody has touched, wash your hands. It really does help.

Get plenty of Vitamins

A diet rich in vitamins, especially A, C, D and minerals like zinc can help quite a lot. All of these are important for proper function of the immune system. Cod liver oil is great for A and D. C is easily obtained through fruits and leafy greens that haven’t been cooked. Vitamin C does help reduce the risk some according to the Cochrane group. 2  I would go with at least 1-2 grams a day and if you think you’re starting to get sick then up it to 1gm every hour or two until loose stool. Anytime I’ve ever had a cold this has help tremendously.

Get rid of the junk

Sugar and refined garbage will weaken your immune system and put you at risk for infection. Eat whole foods that aren’t refined and keep plenty of greens and good fats in your diet. This probably is one of the most important things to do.

Reduce Stress and Rest

Lack of sleep and a hectic schedule will increase your stress hormones and impede immune function. The best is to reduce stress and get good rest. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but this is one of those “ounce of prevention is better than pound of cure” type things. In the next article we’ll look at a few things to do if you think you’re coming down with something.

CIAO

1. http://www.cochrane.org/features/neuraminidase-inhibitors-preventing-and-treating-influenza-healthy-adults-and-children
2. http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD000980/vitamin-c-for-preventing-and-treating-the-common-cold