How to stay healthy during cold and flu season

Another winter brings another round of cold and flu season along with round the clock studying for finals, traveling and holiday stress. Many a student has experienced the misery of working hard all term and then spending Christmas break down with the flu instead of out on the ski slopes. But getting sick isn’t a foregone conclusion. These five tips can help anyone to stay healthy and avoid spending winter break cooped up with a bottle of decongestant and a box of tissues.

Tip number one: Rinse the sinuses and with warm salt water to flush out germs before they can colonize and start an infection. Many people use a neti pot to do this. It looks kind of like a tea kettle or an Aladdin’s lamp. The neti pot works by thinning mucus to help flush it out of the nasal passages. Daily use can help prevent a cold or flu from ever getting started.

To use a neti pot, fill with warm salt water and while leaning sideways over a sink insert the nozzle into the upper nostril. Allow about half the water to flow through the upper sinus passage and down and out through the lower passage. Stand upright, clear the sinus by blowing and repeat on the other side. This can be uncomfortable and difficult to do at first; but the benefits are well worth the trouble. After a few days it becomes much for comfortable, but the benefits can be noticed right away. Better breathing and less congestion are usually noticed immediately. A specially designed bottle called a sinus rinse kit is also used. Some people find it to be more comfortable and less messy than the neti pot.

Both neti pot and sinus rinse bottles are available in the sinus relief section of most drug stores and cost around 12 dollars. The kits usually come with 50 premixed saline packets. Gargling with the remaining saline rinse water in the bottle or neti pot after rinsing is also very helpful for cold and flu prevention. Just as rinsing the sinuses with salt water prevents germs from multiplying, so will gargling protect the throat.

Tip number two: “Practice good hand hygiene.” This preventative tip comes straight from the Center for Disease Control and seems to wind up on every list for staying healthy in the winter. Washing the hands when they look clean can seem useless, but states that “about 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch.” The CDC estimates that influenza and pneumonia were responsible for over 52,000 deaths in the United States in 2007.

Frequently washing the hands with soap and water or a 60 percent alcohol sanitizer inhibits the spread of germs. The CDC states that “keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.”

 Covering the nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or an elbow instead of the hand when sneezing or coughing will also help prevent the spread of germs.

Tip number three: Stay hydrated. The body needs water to keep itself lubricated, to move white blood cells through the system and to flush out germs and viruses. Drinking extra water means the body can do all these tasks more efficiently, and more efficiently means faster.

Tip number four: Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet and take vitamins. All of these things also help the body fight off the cold germs and flu viruses better than a body that is stressed from too little sleep and too much junk food. This combination might seem to describe the typical life of a UCC student, but to keep the germs from ruining the well-deserved down time that December brings consider taking extra supplements. Vitamins, whether taken in pill form or through the diet, give the body the resources it needs to manufacture the antibodies necessary to fight off infection.

Tip number five: Both the CDC and the websites recommend an annual flu shot to help prevent the most common annual flues. Scientists update the vaccine each year to prevent the viruses that are most likely to be prevalent in the United States in the coming year. Simply relying on last year’s vaccination won’t provide protection because the virus constantly mutates and changes. Each individual strain of influenza must be vaccinated against on an individual basis.

So that’s it in a nutshell. Stay clean, stay wet, take care and get a shot. These steps won’t guarantee that the cold and flu viruses won’t come knocking, but they sure can make it harder for them to get in the door.

The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.