Were you healthy during the holidays this year? If so, lucky you! Many people were not fortunate enough to avoid the colds, flu, noroviruses, and other illnesses that are so prevalent between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
Now that we're getting into the heart of winter, things only get worse. Part of the problem is that we are cooped up indoors with lots of people even after the holidays have ended. Think of a trip to the mall for returns or for post-holiday bargains: You're touching merchandise, counters, and escalator handles that hundreds of other people have put their hands on recently. Even if only a few of them were ill, the germs on their hands have now been transferred to a multitude of others who then touched the things you're now touching.
Compounding the problem is that many viruses reach their maximum strength in the winter. Stomach ailments such as norovirus and rotavirus are at their height. (In fact, there's a particularly nasty norovirus making the rounds right now, causing extreme vomiting and diarrhea.) And so is the dreaded flu. A study, performed at Oregon State University in Corvallis, showed a connection between flu prevalence and absolute humidity, which measures the amount of moisture in the air no matter what the temperature. When the absolute humidity is low, as it is in January and February, the influenza virus can survive longer and the rates of transmission skyrocket.
Another reason the flu tends to thrive now is because its outer layer is actually more protective in the winter. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that in cold weather, the covering of the virus is a gel-like substance that helps it remain intact as it is transmitted from one person to the next. In the warmer months, the gel coating melts to a liquid that can't shield the virus from the environment, resulting in lower survival rates for the flu and corresponding lower transmissions.
So what about vaccines? Will they protect you?
Unfortunately, there's just no convincing evidence that the flu vaccine works. In fact, most of the proof so far points to the contrary. During years when flu vaccine production experienced a slow down that cut immunization rates nearly in half, flu mortality rates didn't increase. And in other years, when scientists predicted a different strain of flu would be prevalent than the one that was -- so in effect, no one was immunized -- yet again, mortality rates didn't go up.
And illnesses like the flu can spread rapidly through travel. As people get into planes, trains, and automobiles to enjoy ski trips or head to warmer climes, they are bringing with them whatever illnesses have been going around in their neighborhood to other places that may not have been introduced to these particular pathogens yet. And as people now travel freely from country to country, local epidemics can easily spread and become worldwide pandemics.
All in all, it's hard to stay well.
There are things you can do, however, to maximize your immune system for the rest of the winter. Try to eat healthy, drink enough water, and get plenty of rest to give yourself a fighting chance against all those germs. Another simple way to stay healthy this winter is to wash your hands as frequently as possible. Good old soap and water will kill most of the germs to which you've been exposed as long as you are thorough. (Antibacterial soaps do not help, and may in fact be harmful.) Each washing should last for a minimum of 20 seconds and cover not only palms and tops of hands but between the fingers too. Obviously, it is especially important to wash those hands before meals and anytime you might touch your face since that's how viruses gain entry. If you can't make it to a sink, keep a hand sanitizer around and use that in a pinch. And, of course, you can always use immune enhancing supplements.
And at the first sign of illness, don't go to the doctor to ask for antibiotics -- which have no effect on viruses. Instead, use natural pathogens during the incubation phase of colds and viruses. That's the period before the full illness hits -- when you feel slightly off, a bit achy with a slightly scratchy throat. We all know the symptoms; we just tend to ignore them. But that's the period when the virus is vulnerable, before it's fully established in your body. Once it takes hold, it takes much more work to get rid of it. The active components in a good antipathogen formula will work together not only to defeat viruses and bacteria, but are so complex in the way they combine that a simple pathogen will never be able to develop resistance to them. With powerful natural ingredients like garlic, olive leaf extract, wild mountain oregano, and liquid zinc, an antipathogen formula is safe enough to take all winter long and strong enough to ward off most any virus that comes your way.