Do one more thing to resist the flu

With Marilynn Preston

I was driving the other morning, listening to Forum – one of my favorite radio interview shows. The topic of the day was the flu.

The Flu! After a few noisy coughs, I leaned right in, because pretty much everyone I know either has the flu, had the flu or is about to get the flu.

“It’s very bad this year,” the two doctor guests on KQED agreed, both experts in the flu and flu vaccines. And California is especially hard hit, said host Michael Krasny.

Health officials throughout the state report a skyrocketing number of flu cases: 1,646 so far, compared with 451 at a similar point last year. In San Diego County alone, there have been five recent deaths of flu victims under age 65.

I checked the Centers for Disease Control website later that day, and sure enough, the whole country is suffering from increasing cases of the flu and all the suffering and medical bills that follow.

“Influenza activity increased sharply again in this week’s FluView report,” reads the warning in their latest online report. “The number of jurisdictions experiencing high activity went from 21 states to 26 states.”

One of the problems is the lack of effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine, recommended highly by the CDC for everyone over six months old. It’s only 32 percent effective, Krasny reported. It’s not a secret. Neither doctor refuted him.

Thirty-two percent effective is better than nothing, the experts said. The CDC agrees. They consider taking the flu vaccine as the single most important thing you can do to prevent the flu.

Really? The most important thing a person can do?

Krasny asked the doctors about prevention. “We know about hand-washing. But what else?”

Great question. Prevention! What can a person do to keep from getting the flu?

“Take the flu vaccine,” the doctors kept repeating. “And wash your hands. And if you feel sick, stay home from work or school so you don’t make other people sick.”

I listened to this interesting discussion about the flu for 25 minutes of a 30-minute segment, and when I turned it off in the parking lot of my yoga class, I knew I had a column.

Yes, dear readers, flu vaccines can be helpful, and washing your hands periodically during the day is very smart, but as your most personal trainer I want to mention another strategy for fighting off the flu virus and all its nasty friends. It’s a strategy that I think is every bit as important as taking a flu vaccine that is 32 percent effective. It’s actually more important, in the long term.

Drum roll, please.

Strengthen your immune system! You have one. Everyone does. And the sooner you tune in to yours – and what it needs to become stronger and more protective – the less likely you will be to come down with a debilitating, even deadly, case of the flu. Is it 100 percent effective? No. Nothing is.

What is your immune system exactly? To cover the “exactly” would take volumes, so for now let’s go with something simple from Harvard’s health department: “It’s an extremely complex network of cells and molecules.” Translation: There’s no place in your body that your immune system is not. I like to think of it as a gel-like matrix of potential.

It’s your immune system that protects you from the disease, suffering and death caused by viruses, infectious bacteria, fungi, parasites and more. So again, vaccines can be helpful and hand washing is de rigueur, but don’t forget the incredible power you have to engage with your immune system in ways that make it more effective, more protective and more resilient.

The only question is, when will you decide to take action?

“Get plenty of sleep. Be physically active. Manage your stress. Drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food,” it says deep into the CDC site, the last line of the last paragraph of a page called “Preventing the Flu.”

I’m sorry the doctors on the radio show spent all that time promoting the flu vaccine and no time promoting healthy lifestyle changes.

I guess they think those golden health clichés fall on deaf ears.

I don’t agree. I think people are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Educate them. Coach them. Inspire them to boost their immune system. Do all this, and many fewer people will get sick from the flu, period.

It’s certainly worth a shot.

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