HEALTHY YOU: Focus on health to help ward off cold and flu season

There are very few things in this world that are certain, but during the winter months you can always count on the cold and flu season to dampen what is already a dreary time of year.

It may seem like an odd suggestion, but sometimes the best remedy for staying healthy in these difficult times is simply being healthy.

“It turns out our immune system is very much like our muscles, the more we use them, the fitter the immune system becomes,” said Paul Hasselback, medical health officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

During a time when travelling halfway across the world can take merely hours, our immune systems are being exposed to many more viruses and bugs than ever before, transmitted in the simplest of ways such as handling money, turning a doorknob or even inhaling.

“Each year we come back to a whole variety of new bugs. Some of them we’ve seen before and some are just different versions of what we already know,” said Hasselback.

He compared it to when someone changes their hair colour – most people will recognize a cold or influenza when it presents itself, despite that there are slightly minor changes in the genetic structure that make it different.

“Viruses survive because of the fact that they change – if we all became immune to a virus, it wouldn’t be able to survive,” he said. “It depends upon the fact that it changes ever so slightly, and keep enough people ill so that it can keep itself alive.

“It’s a natural process that it changes, we just have to be smarter about it.”

While there are many theories out there for keeping those nasty bugs at bay, it really is as simple as washing your hands.

“It is the most important way of protecting yourself, but there are things you can do to protect others as well,” said Hasselback. “Starting with, if you are sick, try not to be so generous in sharing your germs.”

That means if you do manage to come down with a cold, influenza or Norovirus, don’t go to work or school, and if you absolutely must, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow, or arm.

“Clothing captures a virus really well and gets cleaned out nicely in the wash,” said Hasselback.

Vaccines are also a good way to decrease the odds of getting ill during the coughing and sneezing season, but managing your overall health, especially for those with health problems like diabetes or respiratory disease, is key.

Hasselback said there are no magic bullets when it comes to treating the common cold or flu for the average joe, despite the myriad of non-medicinal home remedies on the market today.

“The most important thing for getting better is time,” he said. “The more things you try, sooner or later one of them is going to work because it was the last one before you started getting better.”

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