With winter nearly officially here, the holidays just weeks away and flu season upon us, it’s time to start thinking about health and wellness. Nobody wants to be sick, especially not when friends and family are celebrating the season. We’re often told that the flu can be prevented by consuming certain foods and altering our diet, but according to NFID medical director and vice chair of the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Susan J. Rehm, that’s not the case. Dr. Rehm and renowned weather Marysol Castro joined me for an interview to discuss how we can get the FACTS on flu prevention, how the flu is spread, when you should stay home if you’re sick and when it’s safe to go back, whether or not it is okay to exercise, treatment options and much more!
Candace Rose: How infectious is the flu and how does it spread?
Dr. Susan J.Rehm, MD: “Well, the flu is very contagious. We know that people who have the flu can spread it for six feet around them through coughing, through sneezing, but get this, even through just talking. There is a wide radius, and what we’re going to talk about today is why weather the flu? Why put yourself at risk when flu is preventable and flu is treatable.
Some of the things you can do are really summarized well by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations. CDC has a ‘Take 3’ approach to flu prevention and treatment. First of all, everyone six months of age and older should get vaccinated against flu every year. Secondly, do some healthy habits – wash your hands frequently, cover your cough, stay home when you’re sick, keep yourself well and keep others well, too.
The third thing is if you do feel like you’re getting the flu, contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible. There are prescription medications available that can help the flu go away more quickly and get rid of some of the symptoms. This is really a treatment for the flu virus itself, not just something that will cover up symptoms while you’re getting better on your own. You need to contact a healthcare professional quickly (within 48 hours ideally) in order for flu medications to work the best that they possibly can. Be prepared. We know that the flu is already spreading in the U.S.”
Candace Rose: We often hear about different foods and such that may be able to prevent the flu. Is this true? Can we actually prevent it with our diet, or is there anything else we can do to prevent it?
Dr. Susan J. Rehm, MD: “I wish we could prevent it with food, I think that would revolutionize my diet. But in reality the flu vaccine is really the best thing that we can do to try to prevent the flu. Of course the healthy habits to reduce, spread and the use of prescription medication in the case you think you have the flu.
One of the big questions is ‘Are these symptoms flu or is this something else?’ This is something that Marysol and I have been thinking about as we’ve talked the last few hours and days, there are ways to remember when it might be flu and when it might be something else.”
Marysol Castro: “Folks can sometimes misconstrue their symptoms as well ‘ I have a cold, but it’s actually the flu’. We have a great acronym that you should follow to really double check with yourself is this the flu, and it’s FACTS.
- Sudden onset
When all of those symptoms come on in a flash, chances are you are headed down the flu highway, and that’s when you should go seek treatment. It’s FACTS and is pretty easy to remember.”
Candace Rose: When should you stay home from school and work? When is it safe to go back?
Dr. Susan J. Rehm, MD: “Well, the big thing that I think about is if there’s a fever there, you need to stay home. If you’ve got a fever there’s something notable going on and that’s often a good sign, and as you know that’s a part of FACTS (the first part of FACTS).
When you’re able to go back? Pretty much 24 hours after the fever resolves is usually a pretty safe time to go back. The best thing would be to prevent it altogether. Why weather flu? We need to know about the prevention and the treatment in order to the best things for ourselves and for the people around us as well.
One of the things we found in our recent survey from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases is that 41% of people don’t get vaccinated until there’s already flu in the area. That’s really risky because we know it takes two weeks for antibodies to come up and be protective after vaccine is given.”
Candace Rose: Is it ever okay to exercise if you feel as though you’re getting sick?
Marysol Castro: “That’s a great question for you (Dr. Susan J. Rehm, MD) because I wonder for myself ‘Well, I kind of feel sick and maybe if I sweat it out I’ll get it out of my system.’ I have never had the flu, but I’ve been getting the flu vaccine since I was 13 and I continue to get it every year because you can’t just say ‘Oh, I got it last year. I don’t need it again this year. Patently false. Every year you need to get the flu vaccine. I’m not a physician, but for me if I’m feeling under the weather, the best thing for me is rest.”
Dr. Susan J. Rehm, MD: “Absolutely. I think that it’s important to listen to your body. I try to workout too, and I can tell you there are a lot of times when I’m listening to my body, but maybe I’m listening to my head saying ‘I really don’t want to workout.’ Believe me if you’re getting the flu, I don’t think you’re going to be thinking about it.
The reality is you shouldn’t push yourself. If you’re getting ill you should not push yourself because that actually pushes your immune response to a limited extent. Take it easy, everything in moderation and if you’re not feeling well don’t go out there. The better thing is to prevent infection if you possibly can to prevent all of these things that might be going around this time of year.
It was interesting in our survey 2/3 of people said they would call a healthcare professional if they were feeling sick. When it came down to it, people said only about 1/3 of them actually call a professional if they feel like they have the flu. Don’t do what the minority of people do, do it better.”
Candace Rose: Do either of you have any additional tips or information you’d like to share with us?
Marysol Castro: “Actually, we do. We have two websites that we would love for you guys to go check out – one is FluFacts.com. It’s a very interactive website. If you go there and you type in your zip code, you can see incidents of flu in your region and it also makes a comparison with the national average, so that’s one website.
The other one is NFID.org. If you go on there – another useful, super interactive website.
We’re also asking folks at home if you use social media, we’re also using the hashtag #FightFlu. There’s some pretty cool and funny pictures about the flu, some memes. Go ahead and copy and paste them and put them on your Twitter feed – #FightFlu. Spread the message, not the flu.”