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To be or not to be (sick): simple rules to follow

While nothing guarantees you’ll avoid the flu (aside from absolute solitude), these simple hints will help you diminish your chances of catching a nasty case of the crud or, at least survive the worst of it:

• Wash your hands thoroughly, and often. Most flu is passed on after someone infected touches something you’ll touch (e.g. a doorknob, computer keyboard, etc.) and you touch your eyes or mouth. Your best bet is to wash your hands as often as you can (especially after coming to work or dealing with people). Wash thoroughly — all around your hands and between your fingers — and for a time that will take off the germs. Sing “Happy Birthday” or the “Alphabet Song” twice as you wash. Dry your hands thoroughly and then use the paper towel to turn off the water and open the bathroom door before you throw it away.

Don’t rely on hand sanitizer and, if you do use it, make sure alcohol content is between 70-90 percent. However, recent studies have suggested that hand-sanitizers are useless against viruses.

• Stay out of the bar. Not only are you exposing yourself to possibly infected people, but studies have shown that alcohol consumption lowers your immunity. More than that, alcohol dehydrates you (experience the aforementioned hand-sanitizer), interfering with your nose and throat’s ability to expel the nastiness.

• Stop smoking. Easier said than done, yes, but smoking weakens the tiny disease-fighting hairs tucked inside nasal passages and the lungs, which trap and dispose of germs, leaving your body more susceptible to attack. More than that, research has shown that chronic smokers are more susceptible to the effects of flu (especially H1N1, which is shown to burrow more deeply into the lungs than other flu viruses), increasing chances of pneumonia or other respiratory complications.

• Use the “dap.” As much as we enjoy shaking hands, hugging or kissing in Pagosa Country, during flu season it could be (literally and figuratively), the kiss of death. While affection is essential to human interaction, it’s best to keep it very, very casual during flu season. The “dap” (fist bump) is becoming more and more acceptable.

• Chill out. Stress does wonders to the body — most of them negative. Mostly, stress lowers your immune system while it attempts to prioritize the things your body should do to deal with a heightened sense of awareness. Relax. If you get the flu, bummer; if not, excellent. Breathe. Life is too short and, by not worrying, you could save yourself a trip to the doctor.

If you do get the flu, there’s not much you can do at that point except hunker down and survive the misery. While Tamiflu has been shown to have some effectiveness in slowing down the spread of a flu virus, the window for prescribing it is rather narrow and if flu symptoms have been present for more than a day, over the counter medications of your choice are about the best it gets. From that point, the obvious remedies apply:

• Stay home, get well. First of all, the last thing you need is to be out infecting others. Secondly (and most importantly), rest is essential for a quick recovery; wearing yourself out with exertion or exhaustion will not only prolong symptoms, but could potentially increase chances of further complications that could lead to serious medical issues.

• Keep hydrated. That icky gunk that won’t stop coming out of your nose and chest? It’s draining your body of a delicate balance of water that’s essential to health and life.

Water and natural juices are your best bet — avoid anything with a high sugar or caffeine content. And while your grandmother’s whiskey/honey/lemon cocktail to suppress a cough might provide some immediate relief, alcohol dehydrates you. Avoid alcohol as much as possible.

• Ignore the myth, “Starve a cold, feed a fever.” Although you might not feel like eating, the flu is not a good time to start that diet you’ve been putting off for so long. Doctor’s recommend keeping your caloric intake at normal levels to provide your body with essential nutrients and vitamins required to ensure a speedy recovery. Foods high in antioxidants as well as vitamins C and E are a good bet.

Furthermore, there may be something to the age-old myth about chicken soup. Recent research suggests that chicken soup is a powerful mucus stimulant, helping to clear nasal and chest congestion, while also providing a mild antiinflammatory effect that can help ease cold and flu symptoms.

In addition, drinking hot tea is another great old home remedy. With both green and black tea filled with flavonoids, known antioxidants, the effects of thinning mucus as well as adding needed hydration make hot tea a perfect palliative while fighting off the flu.

According to Fran Schreiber-Custer, physicians assistant at Pagosa Mountain Clinic, hydration and rest are the key to recovery, especially in the first few days of the onset of flu. “By all means,” she said, “staying hydrated is essential as a fever runs its course. But also get plenty of rest — and don’t get out to spread it around.”

Common sense though these suggestions may seem, they’re ignored too often and, when the flu hits Pagosa Country next year, will bear repeating again.

jim@pagosasun.com