Even though the 2009 pandemic is over, the H1N1 flu virus is still around.
My family was able to stave it off and make it through the flu season without getting it for almost two years. This year, it finally got all of us. Even our dogs have been sneezing and coughing.
In any given flu season, several types of viruses may be making people sick. In 2009 and most of 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly all flu cases were caused by H1N1.
Flu viruses mutate quickly, so a pandemic can occur when a strain evolves into something against which our immune systems have not had a chance to develop antibodies.
Even though H1N1 is still out there, it's not likely that it will cause a pandemic this year because so many people have been exposed to it — either through illness or vaccination. My family was just late to the party.
I usually don’t get a flu vaccine because my kids are older. After the vaccine shortage we had a few years ago, I like to imagine I’m being noble in saving vaccine resources for families with little ones, or for those who work with children or seniors.
It should be noted, though, that the CDC recommends flu vaccination for everyone 6 months old and up.
Unfortunately, there is no sure way to prevent the cold or flu. But you can arm yourself with a hydrated body and a healthy immune system with proper diet and exercise. These are two key factors in prevention and treatment of cold and flu viruses. Flu vaccination, washing your hands often and adequate sleep also are very important.
How can a nutritious diet bolster immunity and help you avoid the flu?
The healthier you are, the healthier your immune system. To prevent seasonal influenza and other germs that can make you sick, you need a healthy immune system.
A diet rich in live cultures, vegetables, fruit and whole grains is high in probiotics, antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are all believed to support the immune system.
Antioxidants are known to enhance immune defense. Phytonutrients are linked to increased immunity and faster healing. Aim for seven servings of fruits and vegetables and at least three servings of whole grains daily.
Nutrient-packed choices include broccoli, red onion, blueberries, grapes, oats, barley and tea. Don’t like tea? Try using it to flavor and marinate your poultry, fish and meat.
Recent research show that probiotics also boost the immune system. The theory is that healthy bacteria keep the gut and intestinal tract low in disease-causing germs. Yogurt with live active cultures and kefir are good sources of probiotics.
Are there certain foods that fight flu?
Some research has shown that broccoli, mushrooms, red peppers, tea, sweet potatoes and garlic have immune-boosting properties, but it is more important to eat a variety of healthy foods to boost your body’s immune system.
There is no guarantee that eating certain foods will fend off illness, but we do know that your immune system can be enhanced with good nutrition.
Almost any fruit or vegetable is a good choice, especially those rich in vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and the minerals chromium, copper, folic acid, selenium, calcium and zinc. These nutrients have been shown to help immune cells work optimally.
Lean protein is also important, because the immune molecules are made of protein. Omega-3 fatty acids from food such as salmon also may play a role in promoting immunity.
Try boosting each of these nutrients in your diet during flu season, and throughout your life, to increase your immune system and your health.
Besides eating a healthy diet, what can people do to prevent the flu?
Exercise. Moderate physical activity — 30 to 60 minutes at least four days per week — is a powerful immunity booster. Several studies have shown that finding at least 30 minutes to be active every day will help. Too much or not enough exercise can weaken immune systems.
How much is too much? For some, more than 60 minutes daily is too much. For some, two hours each day is normal. Listen to your body because activity ability levels vary.
Get adequate sleep, exercise, reduce stress, drink plenty of liquids and eat a nutritious diet.
Good personal hygiene, washing your hands often and minimal touching of your eyes, nose, and mouth will reduce the spread of germs.
Here’s to another two years without the flu!