Two weeks ago the flu reached epidemic status in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And for the first time in many years, I succumbed to the flu just before Christmas. It hit me hard, coming on quickly out of the blue, without warning. What started as watery eyes and a runny nose quickly turned into a severe cough with my chest seizing as it gasped for air in conjunction with a fever of 101. It lasted nine days. Only that’s not the end of it. Now begins the 6-week waiting period to see if a multiple sclerosis flare-up ensues.
There are common triggers of an MS flare-up even though symptoms of MS vary from patient to patient. One of the most common triggers is infection like the flu. According to Everyday Health, “Infections are the cause of about one-third of all flares of MS symptoms…infection weakens the immune system.” Since the flu is an upper respiratory infection, it most likely will make your immune system vulnerable to a MS relapse or exacerbation.
What can you do to avoid the flu? Here are a few preventative tips.
- Wash your hands frequently and try to avoid putting your hands near your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Ask your doctor about getting an annual flu shot – I got mine and believe that my case of the flu was less severe because of it. Additionally, according to the National MS Society’s specific recommendations for people with MS, “The 2014-2015 inactivated seasonal influenza (flu) immunization (Fluzone) is a single injection that provides immunity to three different flu virus strains….It is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for everyone over 6 months of age. The seasonal flu vaccine has been studied extensively in people with MS and is considered quite safe, regardless of the disease-modifying therapy they are taking.”
- Avoid being around people who are sick.
- Minimize contact; hugging, kissing, etc. and stay home if you feel sick so as not to spread your germs and/or get worse.
- Remain vigilant with your healthy lifestyle: stay with your MS medication; eat a diet rich in fresh veggies, fruit and organic lean proteins; exercise; get plenty of sleep; and find time for a spiritual practice.
What if you do everything you can to prevent the flu and yet, like me, you still catch it? Here are a few tips of what you can do to minimize the after effects of a severe case of the flu in the hope to minimize your chances of experiencing a relapse or exacerbation:
- Rest Make sure you are 100% well before resuming regular activities. Your body isn’t ready to bounce back immediately and needs plenty of rest to regain lost energy. Take your time in resuming regular activities. While lying around for a week or so you’ve also lost muscle mass as well as stamina so you have to slowly regain it.
- Decrease Inflammation Inflammation is what causes your immune system to go into attack mode because it views inflammation as an invader to your body’s healthy balance. To minimize inflammation limit/avoid your intake of refined carbohydrates, fried foods, sugar, and processed foods. Instead focus on fresh vegetables and fruits (green leafy veggies and berries), whole grains, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, or mackerel), healthy oils (olive), and real unprocessed foods.
- Hydrate According to WebMD, “Our bodies are made up of about 60% water, and every system depends on water. So water is important for healthy skin, hair, and nails, as well as controlling body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.” And, “Your mucous membranes and the immune cells in their secretions defend against cold viruses, and they can’t work as well if you’re dehydrated,” according to Dr. Jamey Wallace, chief medical officer at Bastyr Center for Natural Health in Seattle.
- Take a Good Quality Probiotic By eating foods (e.g. yogurt with live, active cultures) or taking a supplement containing good bacteria you can reduce the risk of infection, especially respiratory like the flu. According to Health Reports from Harvard Medical School, “Researchers, including some at Harvard Medical School, are finding evidence of a relationship between such “good” bacteria and the immune system. For instance, it is now known that certain bacteria in the gut influence the development of aspects of the immune system, such as correcting deficiencies and increasing the numbers of certain T cells.”
Hopefully this season you will avoid the flu. However, please don’t live in fear of catching it. Fear is planning for a negative future and that will only add stress to your life. Instead, set the intention to live your healthiest life every day while keeping in mind what my mother used to say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Have you gotten the flu this year? I hope these tips keep you healthy.
Barbara inspires hope through mindful health and a meaningful life. By combining healthy living, spirituality, and neuroscience principles, she helps people understand how to be proactive in their health care versus reactionary in their sick care so they can feel great in their body and in their life. Her greatest wish is to never hear a person say, “I should be taking better care of myself.” To learn more and receive her FREE guide, visit Appelbaum Wellness.