If there is one thing that everyone dreads every time Winter rolls around more than that constant feeling of being under the weather, it has to be the flu. And no, I’m not talking stinking cold man flu but real out and out flu. The type where seeking out flu prevention tips becomes a serious mama mission!
Personally, I am so fearsome of the flu (I have asthma, and last time I had it, it was so severe I passed out and landed with my head in the airing cupboard which sounds funny but is not joke I assure you!), that I opt to have a vaccine every year.
When you, and then your whole family go down with flu it is nothing short of hellish. So today I wanted to pass on some excellent flu prevention tips- on both how parents can protect both themselves and their children from catching the flu – from Dr Tom York, a new dad and NHS-registered GP from GPDQ – the UK’s first doctor-on-demand-app.
Teach your children good hygiene
This can be a slightly contentious topic – how clean to keep your family’s environment. Advances in hygiene since the mid 19th century have saved countless human lives, but the quest to create an ever more sterile environment may well have led to the rise in various other conditions such as asthma, hay fever, autoimmune diseases and some cancers.
Flu is very contagious, so it’s advisable to take extra precautions especially if you have young, unvaccinated children. Flu can be caught from inhaling the virus when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes.
Avoid cramped public spaces like buses and trains if at all possible and avoid visiting someone you know has the flu. The flu virus can also remain on surfaces for up to 24 hours so hand washing, especially before mealtimes is a good idea. With the best will in the world, it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of catching the flu.
Therefore, I generally think it makes sense to try and develop a robust immune system in yourself and your family by relaxing hygiene standards a little when the risk of contracting illnesses is low.
Boost your immune system
Your immune system is one of the most incredible products of evolution and allows you survive in a world which is absolutely riddled with millions of microbes, many of which would otherwise be harmful. There is a war waging under your skin every moment of every day. It’s only when your immune system is overwhelmed that you start to exhibit symptoms of infection. To aid your cells in the fight, there are various things you can do to tip the balance in their favour:
- Sleep – The link between sleep deprivation and poor immune function is well established so make sure you’re getting your eight hours.
- Sunlight – Adequate vitamin D is essential in maintaining a properly functioning immune system. It is speculated that part of the reason viral illnesses increase in winter months is due to people lacking vitamin D. NHS guidelines suggest breastfed babies, children aged 1-4 years old and pregnant or breastfeeding women should supplement with vitamin D. For everyone else, the advice is to consider supplementation in autumn and winter.
- Avoid Smoking – Smoking suppresses the immune system, especially in the respiratory system, making smokers more likely to catch the flu and leading to a more severe illness when they do.
- Diet – Malnutrition impairs the immune system and can be present in fussy eaters as well those who are underweight. A wide variety of natural foods is the key to maintaining a robust immune system, ensuring adequate selenium, zinc, copper, iron and vitamins A, B6, C and E.
Consider booking in a vaccinations
Whether to have vaccinations or not is a hugely debated topic amongst families. I generally advocate their use but the flu vaccine does come with its own set of issues. The NHS offers the nasal flu vaccines to children aged two to five, the injection to children and adults over the age of five with certain chronic conditions, pregnant women and to adults over the age of 65. However, the injected flu vaccine is available privately to anyone over the age of six months old.
The vaccine reduces the incidence of flu infections, the number of hospital admissions and fatalities but the injection, despite not being able to cause the flu, can cause a reaction which has very similar symptoms. Added to this, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine changes from year to year and can only be determined retrospectively.
Last year for example, the flu vaccine was 15 percent effective, meaning 85 percent of those who had the vaccine received zero benefit and may well have suffered the flu-like side effects. The nasal vaccine on the other hand, rarely causes side effects other than a slight runny nose, so I will have no hesitation in giving my son this vaccine when he is old enough.
Children under the age of six months cannot receive any form of the flu vaccine. However, one of the many wonderful things about human physiology, is that pregnant mothers share part of their own immune system with their babies via the placenta. This means that taking steps towards boosting your immune system and receiving the flu vaccine in pregnancy can provide your baby with some protection from flu viruses until they’re 6-8 months old, so I’d recommend the flu vaccine for any expectant mothers.
Go via the NHS to get the vaccine for you and/or your child, or to have it done at your own convenience, in the comfort of your own home, go via the UK’s first doctor-on-demand app, GPDQ. The digital service connects its users (patients) directly with a local NHS GP who will visit them within hours at a location of the patient’s choice, be it their home, workplace or a hotel if they are travelling from abroad.
So as flu season approaches (gah!) it seems the best advice to avoid flu is by keeping as healthy as possible, eating well, getting enough sleep (easier said than done I know!), getting ample amounts of vitamin D and enforcing that washing hands rule!
Good luck everyone and here’s hoping many of us manage to dodge that flu bullet!