Influenza (flu) is a contagious disease of the respiratory tract caused by influenza viruses. Each year, influenza causes serious infection and death around the globe, usually in the winter months.
Due to some pre-existing immunity to the seasonal strains of influenza, most people only suffer a self-limiting illness, lasting from a few days to several weeks. Three different types of influenza viruses infect humans – types A, B and C. Only influenza A and B cause major outbreaks and severe disease. They are included in seasonal influenza vaccines. Influenza C causes a common cold-like illness in children. Only influenza A is known to have been responsible for influenza pandemics.
In Australia, influenza causes between 1500 to 3500 deaths, about 18 000 hospitalisations and 300 000 GP consultations each year. This adds up to an estimated cost to the Australian healthcare system of about 85 million dollars each year. To date, all studies around the globe still show that getting the annual flu shot is the best line of defence for you and your family. Not only does the Flu Shot protect individuals, it also provides ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity is the resistance of a group of people to an infection. It arises due to the immunity of a high proportion of the population, for example because they have been vaccinated or been exposed to the pathogen before. If this proportion is high enough then the small number of people who have no immunity will be protected because there are not enough susceptible people to allow transmission of the pathogen.
The quadrivalent influenza vaccine components for the Australian 2018 influenza season will contain the following:
- An A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09 – like virus
- An A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 (H3N2) – like virus;
- A B/Brisbane/60/2008 – like virus (belonging to the Victoria lineage)
- A B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus
The composition of the Australian vaccine is decided by the Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee in consultation with the World Health Organisation.
Research indicates that moderate exercise 3-4 times a week can stimulate the immune system. Exercise has been documented as having the ability to create a transient increase in immune system activity, increasing the numbers of white blood cells and immunoglobulin in the blood, which acts to reduce a person’s susceptibility. Physical activity has also been shown to help flush out bacteria from the airways, reducing the chance of contracting a cold, flu or other illness, as well as alterations of body temperature preventing bacteria from growing, and viruses duplicating due to sensitivities in environmental change. Lastly but most importantly exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Stress is widely documented as being one of the main underlying causes of illness in people around the world. Regular exercise helps to regulate stress hormones to maintain a balanced and healthy immune system.
One reason our immune system function is so closely tied to our sleep is that certain disease-fighting substances are released or created while we sleep. Our bodies need these hormones, proteins, and chemicals in order to fight off disease and infection. Sleep deprivation, therefore, decreases the availability of these substances leaving us more susceptible to each new virus and bacteria we encounter. This can also cause us to being sick for a longer period of time as our bodies lack the resources to properly fight whatever it is that is making us sick.
The different phases of sleep are responsible for different functions within our bodies. The first and second phases involve settling in, resulting in rhythmic breathing and a lowered body temperature. The third and fourth stages are when our bodies are working to restore themselves. During this time our muscles relax and the blood supply going to them increases. Our bodies use this time to repair tissue damage and grow new tissue. Important hormones are released and our energy is renewed. These stages appear to be a critical factor in maintaining a healthy immune system and any sleep disturbance that impacts them impacts our health.
Bolstering the immune system doesn’t require us to dedicate additional time to sleep. But we do need to ensure we are getting the sleep we need. Adults generally need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night and children and teens need more ranging from 9 to 11 hours. Consistency is the key to good sleep hygiene and bolstering our immune systems.
4. NUTRITION & HYDRATION
It takes more than an apple a day to keep the doctor away! Rounding out your plate with colourful servings of fruit, vegetables and or/meat products, plus 8-10 glasses of water a day at least, will help to add extra flu-fighting punch for the best possible health outcome this winter. It is malnutrition that has been proven to be associated with a significant impairment of cell-mediated immunity, phagocyte function, secretory antibody concentrations, and cytokine production. Deficiencies of micronutrients listed below alter immune responses. Associated with each micronutrient is a food group or source that will help increase these levels:
Zinc – oysters, beef, lamb, toasted wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, pork, chicken, beans, and mushrooms
Selenium – brazil nuts, shitake mushrooms, pinto beans, chia seeds, brown rice, seeds (sunflower, sesame and flax), broccoli, cabbage, spinach, yellowfin tuna, grass fed beef, chicken, turkey
Iron – chicken liver, beef, kangaroo, fortified cereals, kidney beans, green lentils, tofu, chickpeas, raw spinach, rolled oats, almonds
Copper – beef liver, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, lentils, dried apricots, almonds, cashews, asparagus, dark chocolate, raw kale, avocado, tempeh, goats cheese
Vitamin A – Mackerel, salmon, liver, goats cheese, butter, cheddar cheese, hard-boiled egg, sweet potato, squash, carrot (cooked), kale, red capsicum, spinach, mango, grapefruit, watermelon, apricot, papaya
Vitamin C – strawberries, citrus fruits, black currant, kiwi, red capsicum, dark leafy greens, guava, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes
Vitamin E – almonds, raw seeds, mustard greens, spinach, plant oils, kale, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin, asparagus, red capsicum, swordfish, peanut butter.
Vitamin B6 –chicken, turkey, pinto beans, tuna, avocado, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pistachios, pork, beef liver, chickpeas, tuna, salmon, fortified cereals, bananas, spinach
Folic Acid – dark leafy greens, asparagus, citrus, beans, peas, lentils, okra, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, beetroot, corn, nuts, bananas, oranges, squash.
Your intestinal bacteria also has the capacity to synthesise a variety of vitamins and minerals, which makes it an essential requirement to make sure your gut health is as optimal as possible. Without good gut flora, you are potentially missing out on huge requirements in all areas above. Fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir) and products with high populations of protective gut bacteria such as yoghurt, all help to replenish and maintain healthy gut biomes. supplements in the form of Probiotics purchased from Pharmacies are also effective and efficient ways to boost the population of protective gut flora. Pro tip – rotate your fermented foods and probiotic brands to ensure you are getting a balanced intake of all strains required for a full replenishment.
5. GOOD HYGIENE
People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
Below are some tips on how to best avoid contracting and spreading the influenza virus this season:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, being with ill people and especially before you eat.
- Avoid sharing objects that may have been on direct contact with viral droplets
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes
- Use tissues for coughs and sneezes and dispose of them immediately and appropriately
- Avoid crowds and keep your distance from people whom you know are ill
- If you are sick, avoid contact with the frail, very young and elderly
- If you are sick, stay home from work or school
Last but not least – listen to your body. If you do come down with a cold or flu, take it easy. Spending excessive energy steals valuable resources from the immune system. Even attempting to perform normal activities at work or school may be too much. Besides, if you believe you’re coming down with flu, probably the best thing you can do for friends and family is to not expose them unnecessarily to the virus.
STAY WELL THIS FLU SEASON