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Good hygiene key in keeping flu away

POSTED November 6, 2012 5:13 p.m.
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The flu season typically lasts from October through March or April; so theoretically, the time for people to start getting the flu is already here. The 2011-12 flu season occurred during an unusually mild winter, which may be why it was not as bad as the previous three flu seasons. As for this present one, the disease forecasters appear to be somewhat undecided about the flu threats facing us. However, the medical community is steadfastly urging the population to get flu shots without delay.

The weather is not the only factor that plays a role in the how severe the flu season is for any given year. Indirectly, the weather influences peoples' behavior, which has much to do with the spread of any disease. Specifically, the colder and rainier a winter is, the more people spend time indoors which is where viruses and bacteria are able to survive best. At the same time, people who are sick tend to stay indoors even more and diseases are spread to those who are otherwise healthy. It is also believed that depression and a lack of exposure to sunlight increases a person's susceptibility to illness.

The flu and colds that transform into respiratory illnesses can be deadly - even for healthy people, so it makes sense to practice as much prevention as possible. Everyone knows that rest and eating properly are keys to staying healthy, but in today's world, people are often very busy and feel like there is no time to get enough sleep or eat properly. Our bodies will force us to rest, and it seems like getting sick is one of the ways that our body forces us to slow down and take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically.

In terms of daily habits that can help keep colds and the flu at bay, washing hands is one of the highest priorities. Each of us, without even thinking about it, touch our eyes, ears, mouth and nose multiple times daily, and it is through the aforementioned body parts that viruses and bacteria most easily infect us.

Every time people shake hands, there is a transfer of all kinds of microorganisms, most of which are common and harmless. But someone infected with the flu or a cold may well be transferring harmful viruses and bacteria to the other person. It is always a good idea to keep one's hands clean, and according to the medical community, the best way to prevent disease is to thoroughly wash hands with soap and warm water. Even the use of anti-bacterials like alcohol-based hand sanitizers is questionable, since they are known to kill the good bacteria that are naturally colonized on our hands and are thought to serve as barriers to the harmful bacteria that we are trying to avoid.

The medical community seems to urge the public (six months and older) to get flu shots. There are, of course, many people who believe that flu shots themselves are harmful and have harmful side effects. On that point, I believe that thorough research is very important. You can find literally thousands of references to the subject of the pros and cons of flu shots on the internet. Since this boils down to a matter of health, research and consultation with a physician is certainly warranted. I have, over the years, opted for receiving flu shots because of my profession - I have a lot of interaction with many people throughout the days and evenings, I spend a lot of time indoors, my lifestyle tends to include irregular work hours, things can get very stressful, a full night's rest is often hard to achieve, and I tend to go through cycles of having poor eating habits. Actually, I think that the majority of people face the same kinds of challenges as I do, so becoming ill from the flu or serious cold is a threat each winter season that faces most all of us.

We may or may not be facing a serious flu and cold season, but now is the time to pay attention to the habits and personal care that may keep you from getting sick. It is also the time to get a flu shot, if you and your physician decide that is a good preventative step for you. Take care and I wish you a healthy winter.

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