Flu season is officially here. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that the illness is widespread throughout 43 states, including North Carolina. For the week of December 29 through January 5, WakeMed reported 240 cases of positive flu diagnosis.
This year, the influenza A H3N2 strain of the virus is particularly prevalent and has mutated or changed since being included in the flu vaccine. In past seasons during which this occurred, decreased vaccine effectiveness was observed. However, it is still critically important to receive your flu vaccine. The flu vaccine still provides protection against other strains of flu, such as H1N1 and Influenza B, and it also essentially “teaches” your body how to make the antibodies needed to fight the flu, which is paramount.
In addition to receiving the flu vaccine, there are some things you can do to help protect your body from illness and give your immune system an added boost. WakeMed Cary Hospital clinical dietitian Parul Kharod offered this helpful advice:
- If you are a smoker, try to stop smoking.
- Make sure you are getting regular exercise.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep; 7 to 8 hours a night for adults and a few hours more for children.
- Reduce your stress level through such practices as meditation or yoga.
“Anything that you can do to help reduce infammation in your body will be beneficial to your immune system,” explained Kharod.
In terms of nutrition and diet, Kharod said that these elements are key:
- Reduce or eliminate the amount of sugars and trans-fats that you eat. This includes processed and fast foods.
- Increase the amount of antioxidants that you eat. Antioxidants can be found in berries and any fruit or vegetable that has natural color. Many herbs and spices also contain antioxidants, such as ginger, cinnamon and turmeric.
- Eat fruits and vegetables that include vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and red peppers.
- Eat more whole grains, such as oats, barley and rye. Processed grains introduce more starch which leads to more sugar.
- Get your fill of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
- Nuts and beans include lots of minerals and vitamins. Eat more of them!
- The greater variety of food that you eat, the better as you will introduce more minerals and vitamins into your diet.
“More and more research has shown that you should get your immune-boosting vitamins and minerals directly from food, as opposed to taking a daily vitamin or other supplement,” added Kharod.
And of course regular and thorough hand washing is always strongly recommended when it comes to avoiding germs.
Learn more about the flu and strategies for helping to prevent illness on our website. We hope you and your family are able to stay healthy and well!