Dealing with colds and the flu at this time of year

Cold and flu prevention

Colds and flus are common winter infections caused by viruses. Colds are milder than flus and tend to be limited to the mouth and nose.

More than 200 viruses can cause a cold. Common cold viruses include rhinoviruses, corona viruses, adenoviruses and respiratory syncytial viruses. Nasal congestion, itchy watery eyes, sore throat and cough are common symptoms of a cold. Most colds last on average three to seven days.

Flus are more severe than colds and tend to last longer. They are caused by a family of influenza A, B, C and D viruses. Sore throat, nasal congestion, itchy watery eyes, headache, muscle aches, nausea, upset stomach and fever are common symptoms of a flu. Most flus last between four and seven days.

Washing your hands is one of the best things you can do to prevent catching a cold or contracting a flu virus.

A recent Cochrane review concluded that handwashing is the single best thing you can do to prevent getting a cold or flu virus and most experts suggest washing your hands under running water, and using soap, for at least 20 seconds—the length of time it takes to sing one stanza of the song Happy Birthday to You.

Viruses and bacteria, although airborne, can stick to surfaces and objects. Your hands are used to touch surfaces such as door handles, countertops, common utensils, dish cloths, phones, remote controls and money. Most experts agree the most contaminated surfaces in your home are found in the kitchen and bathroom. In public spaces, the most contaminated areas include door handles, faucets, toilet seats and checkout counters.

Washing surfaces with an antiviral chemical, such as bleach, is recommended. Four teaspoons of bleach per one litre of water makes a good antiseptic concentration. Other antiviral chemicals include hydrogen peroxide, alcohol and essential oils that can be applied to surfaces to prevent viral adherence.

Wearing a mask may also be beneficial. Although a recent Cochrane review concluded mask wearing does not prevent getting a virus for most people, it may in preventing transmitting the virus to another person. Together with other public measures, such as distancing yourself from an infected person, that may help prevent transmission.

Cold viruses can live up to one hour on human hands while flu viruses can live up to 24 hours on door handles. The Covid virus can live up to several days on surfaces, especially in cold and dry environments.

The amount of virus needed to cause an infection in a person varies from virus to virus as well as person to person.

The viral load is the quantity needed to cause an infection and can vary from as little as 10,000 virions to as much as several billion viral particles. Not only is the viral load important but also the state of the immune system. The human immune system is a complex interplay of immune cells that includes white blood cells and cellular chemicals called cytokines.

If you sneeze, cover your face and nose. If you use your hands, immediately wash them or use antiseptic wipes to prevent the virus from adhering to your hands and then entering your mouth, nose or eyes.

Also, eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and spices that contain phytochemicals that help the immune system or are antiviral. Garlic, cayenne pepper, horse radish, ginger, tumeric and honey are common condiments used to treat common respiratory viral infections.

It’s also important to get your sleep. A sustained deep sleep, usually seven to eight hours in duration, is necessary for a healthy immune system. Get regular exercise too. Fresh air and aerobic exercise are good for the immune system, the lungs and respiratory system, as well as the cardiovascular system.

Stay hydrated. Drinking fluids keeps mucous membranes hydrated and may keep viruses from adhering to mucosal surfaces. Sip warm liquids. Fluids such as water, tea and chicken noodle soup are recommended.

Add moisture to the air. Humidity is the amount of moisture in the air. In winter the air is dry and adding moisture to the air prevents viruses from sticking around too long. The humidity is expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount of water in the air. A relative humidity between 40% and 60% is best to prevent viral transmission.

Take pain killers. If your throat or sinuses are sore, taking a pain killer such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen is acceptable. Other supplements, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc are also recommended to help maintain a healthy immune system and decrease the time it takes to get over a cold or the flu.

Herbal medicines such as echinacea, goldenseal, astragalus, elderberry and oregano oil are all popular over-the-counter natural remedies that may help you get over a cold or the flu as well.

Flu shots, base d on the best model that predicts the upcoming flu viruses, are estimated to be between 40% and 60% effective in preventing the flu. They are recommended for high-risk patients.

It is important to remember that sometimes a cold or the flu can lead to a concomitant bacterial infection in an immune-compromised individual and that may require prescription antibiotics.

The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute medical advice. All information and content are for general information purposes only.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doug Lobay is a practicing naturopathic physician in Kelowna, British Columbia.

He graduated with a bachelor of science degree from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and then attended Bastyr College of Natural Health Sciences in Seattle, Washington, where graduated with a doctorate in naturopathic medicine degree in 1991. While attending Bastyr College, he began to research the scientific basis of naturopathic medicine. 

He was surprised to find many of the current major medical journals abounded with scientific information on the use of diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.

Doug is a member of the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia and has practiced as naturopathic family physician for more than 30 years.  He maintains a busy practice in Kelowna where he sees a wide age range of patients with various ailments.

He focuses on dietary modification, allergy testing, nutritional assessments, supplement recommendation for optimal health, various physical therapy modalities, various intravenous therapies including chelation therapy.

An avid writer, he has written seven books on various aspects of naturopathic medicine that are available on Amazon and was also a long-time medical contributor to the Townsend Letter journal for doctors and patients, where many of his articles are available to view on-line. He has also given numerous lectures, talks and has taught various courses on natural medicine.

Doug enjoys research, writing and teaching others about the virtues of natural health and good nutrition. When not working, he enjoys cycling, hiking, hockey, skiing, swimming, tennis and playing guitar.

If you have any further questions or comments, you can contact Dr. Lobay at 250-860-7622 or [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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