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Let the Flu Go Around You

Since mid-Fall TV commercials have been trumpeting the horrors of the "flu season". They blare "It's never too soon or too late to begin fighting this year's bug". Public health announcements urge us to get our "annual flu shot", as if this is something we've have permanently scheduled in our brains and electronic devices.  All the leading over-the-counter pain medications offer special seasonal "flu" mixtures, and their ads deluge us during daytime and prime-time broadcasting.

For the health consumer, namely us, it seems as if this annual "war on the flu" is just another defenseless human challenge and we are at the mercy of the all-powerful flu virus.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

What's never mentioned in the "flu warning" advertising is the versatility and adaptability of our remarkable immune system. We're the lucky owners of a built-in state-of-the-art bio-warfare system and it's on-the-job 24/7 to combat microscopic foreign invaders of our health and well-being. Once our immune system has detected a foreign protein it mounts an immediate defense, attacking and destroying the alien molecules. And, the memory of that particular invader is permanent, enabling a future immune response to be more swift and effective.1

The big issue with influenza is that new strains appear each year. We've never encountered these germs before. But, the whole basis and strength of our immune system is flexibility. It is specially designed to respond quickly to new attackers. And, for the most part, it does this very, very well. So, maintain a healthy immune system and you beat the flu.  The healthier your immune system is the quicker you beat the flu.  Of course, no one wants their dinner companion to sneeze in their plate of pasta, as Elaine did on an infamous episode of "Seinfeld".  Everyone around her got a blast of her micro-bug! 

So, What To Do?

In the real world, our immune systems can be weakened due to unhealthy life habits, challenging circumstances, and stress. Stress is a notorious compromiser of immune defenses.2 And, of course, being human, there's plenty of stress every single day.  If worry and anxiety piles on top of not-enough-sleep or sub-optimal nutrition, getting sick is a pretty likely outcome.  So, developing and maintaining healthy habits of living and successful strategies for managing stress year around is really the key.3

Get Ready and Stay Ready - Year Around

If you do the simple things that keep you healthy and well, in the winter months you can pretty much "let the flu go around you". You can be confident, knowing you've done the work to fight off the latest flu threat. Someone else's germs are their germs, not yours. If your immune system is on the job, you're far less likely to "catch" something.

And, even if you do succumb, you have a much better chance of quickly getting well again!

1Sompayrac L: How the Immune System Works, 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2002.
2Wein H:Stress and disease - new perspectives. NIH Word on Health, October 2000.
3The Truth About Your Immune System - What You Need To Know. Harvard Health Publications, 2007.

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