In the United States, the annual flu season begins in Autumn and continues through Winter into early Spring. It generally peaks from late November through March. The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and over, who do not have contraindications, receive an annual flu vaccine as early as September.
A contraindication is defined as: a factor or condition that makes it necessary to withhold a certain medication or treatment to avoid harm that it would cause the patient. People who should not receive the flu vaccine include:
- Anyone who has had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine
- People who are ill, with or without fever
- Patients with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, because the vaccine carries with it a high risk of a recurrence of the syndrome
What About People who have an Egg Allergy?
Most influenza vaccines contain trace amounts of egg protein, because they are produced by growing the virus in embryonal chicken eggs. While adverse reactions to the commonly used flu vaccines are rare, Flublok, an egg-free alternative, is available. If you have an egg allergy, you should be vaccinated in a setting equipped to deal with an allergic reaction in case anaphylaxis does occur. Flublok is not recommended for children under 18 years of age.
Why Does Flu Season Peak during Winter?
The cold, dry air in Winter is the ideal environment for the influenza virus to thrive. Because of this fact, you are more likely to contract the virus when you are outdoors. This was recognized all the way back during the 1,800’s when the virus was given it’s name. Italian in origin, the word, influenza, is defined as: influence of the cold.
Dr. Peter Palese, professor and chairman of the microbiology department of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, conducted a study by exposing some guinea pigs to the virus. He determined that the transmission of the flu virus peaked at a temperature of 41 degrees. Conversely, it steadily dropped as the temperature increased, ceasing transmission at 86 degrees.
Low humidity, which occurs during the winter months, is another contributing factor. The flu virus is transmitted through droplets in the air, and Winter’s low humidity actually helps them remain in the air longer. The low humidity prevents them from picking up too much water, which would cause them to grow larger and fall to the ground.
An Ounce of Prevention…
While getting a flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent contracting the flu, there are other precautions that you can and should take, especially if the vaccine is contraindicated for you:
- Steam It – Since the flu virus flourishes in a cold, dry environment, some warm, moist air is an excellent combatant. By breathing in a little steam, the cilia (tiny hair-like extensions) in your sinus and nasal passages will react quickly, protecting you by preventing germs from entering your body.
- Moisturize – Your nasal passages need to remain moist in order to flush out bacteria and viruses. Using a nasal gel or spray and drinking lots of water will do the trick.
- Work it Out – Daily exercise will boost your immune system’s germ-fighting defenses.
- Be Sweet to Yourself – Add a little honey to your diet. It has been clinically proven to increase antioxidant powers and kill various bacteria.
- Say Hello to Rosemary – This herb works as an anti-viral agent and is a great compliment to meats, stews, and soups.
While you can’t control the weather, understanding how it affect your health goes a long way towards staying healthy.