These ‘Flu-Preventing’ Hacks People Rely on Don’t Actually Work
The 2017-2018 flu season has reared its ugly head and is leaving people with a lot of questions about what treatments work, what don’t, and how they can stay healthy.
It’s not too late to read up on flu-preventing tips — flu season lasts until April, contrary to popular belief — but be wary of what tips are useful and which are just a waste of time. We’ll explore the 2017-2018 flu season, what hacks you’re using that don’t work, and advice from medical professionals on how to stay as healthy as possible.
We’re in the midst of a deadly flu season
It seems like everyone’s sick lately: your coworkers, your friends, your kids. The 2017-2018 flu season is on track to potentially surpass the record-breaking 2014-2015 season, during which an estimated 34 million Americans had a bout of the flu, 710,000 were hospitalized, and 56,000 died.
“We’ll expect something around those numbers,” Daniel B. Jernigan, M.D., director of the C.D.C.’s influenza division, said. This year’s dominant virus, H3N2, is usually the most lethal of the flu strains.
Next: The crucial word people are using that could be blowing things out of proportion.
But, it’s not a pandemic
Many are mistakenly interchanging the terms “pandemic” and “epidemic.” While this year’s virus has already proved deadly, it isn’t a pandemic. The World Health Organization’s standards for a pandemic require the virus to “involve the global spread of a new disease.” There have been three known flu pandemics in the 20th century: 1918 proved the most fatal.
Next: The surprising age group who is getting sick now more than ever before.
It’s hitting baby boomers harder than ever
It’s common for people over the age of 65 who contract the flu virus to require hospitalization. However, the usual group to follow suit are infants, but this year, baby boomers — ages 50 to 64 — are taking the hit.
This age group is ironically the least likely to be protected, The New York Times reported. About 41% of the baby boomers have gotten their flu shot this year, whereas 57% of the most vulnerable age group, those 65 and older, have gotten their shots.
Next: The flu-preventing tips you follow that may not make a difference.
1. Wearing a surgical mask 24/7
Not all doctors are sold on the need to wear a surgical mask all the time during flu season. Sherif Mossad, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic told Health he thinks “wearing a mask all the time in public places to prevent transmission of the flu is not recommended for the vast majority of the population.”
Susan Besser, M.D., a doctor with Mercy Personal Physicians in Maryland, agrees: “My personal opinion is masks for healthy individuals are more annoying than useful. If you are really using a mask for protection or prevention, you would have to wear it practically 24/7 to avoid any possible contact.”
Next: These medications cause more harm than good when used to treat the flu.
It may seem harmless to reach for your friend’s leftover antibiotics from their sinus infection when you feel a stuffy nose coming on but think again. If you’re looking to treat flu symptoms, antibiotics, which are used to fight off bacterial infections, won’t help since the flu is a virus.
It’s more than just ineffective to take antibiotics with a virus like the flu, it can be harmful. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily can increase the chance you get an infection that’s resistant to the antibiotics later on.
Next: This “cold prevention” tablet was ousted for its inaccurate claims.
Airborne, a “dietary supplement,” was marketed as a cold prevention tablet full of vitamins and minerals. However, some doctors like Peter Katona, M.D., an associate clinical professor of infectious diseases at UCLA, find them to be a “waste of money.”
Airborne paid $30 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in X. The FTC announced the settlement and said Airborne lacked “competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the claims,” that they made while marketing the product.
Next: These supplements sound too good to be true — and they probably are.
4. Other herbal supplements
A lot of Americans rely on herbal supplements and other natural remedies to keep them healthy throughout the flu season, however, both research and doctors show that they aren’t all that effective.
Take the popular herbal supplement echinacea. While a 2014 review of 24 trials suggested echinacea supplements could potentially ward off colds, research showed it can also make you nauseous and worsen asthma.
Next: You should watch how much you leave the couch this flu season.
Research shows regular exercisers have stronger immune systems than those are completely sedentary. It may seem like a good idea to hit the gym and break a sweat when you’re feeling a cold coming on, however, most doctors advise against it.
“Living in denial of your illness could cause you to do more harm than good,” Ian Tong, M.D., told Reader’s Digest, “If you love to exercise, dial down the intensity to walking for a couple of days or until you are feeling better.”
Next: This vaccine was highly ineffective.
5. Nasal spray flu vaccine (LAIV)
LAIV, commonly known as FluMist, only proved 3% effective for the 2015-2016 flu season and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended against getting the needle-free vaccine for the 2017-2018 season.
Next: What you need to know about the flu shot.
The truth about the flu shot
This year’s flu vaccine is reportedly only about 10% effective, but most doctors still recommend you get it. You need to get your flu shot each year to protect against that specific year’s virus. Scientists create the flu shot by looking at different viral strains and predicting which will be strongest.
According to Vox, whenever H3N2 is the dominant flu strain of the influenza A virus, the vaccine doesn’t work as well. Doctors still recommend you get your flu shot. “… if you get the flu vaccine, the real goal is even if you do get the flu that you are not as sick as you would be if you had not gotten the vaccine,” Michael Chang, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist said.
Next: This year it’s the flu, but a few years from now it could be worse.
Long-term flu consequences
A dangerous flu season puts you at risk for further long-term conditions as well. Pneumonia, MRSA, and meningitis can all stem from the flu if it isn’t treated properly. The flu and other respiratory viruses cause nearly one-third of U.S. pneumonia cases.
Next: The tips that really will keep you healthy this flu season.
1. Wash your hands constantly
“The two most important things you can do for yourself to avoid the flu is to get an annual influenza vaccine, and the second is to have good hand hygiene,” Fran Wallach, M.D., told BuzzFeed Life. Lather for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and avoid using communal handtowels if possible.
To sanitize on the go, the CDC recommends buying a hand sanitizer with a 60-95% alcohol concentration.
Next: How you can change your diet to protect yourself from a potential cold.
2. Eat your fruits and vegetables
How you eat before flu season and while you’re sick can make the difference between a small cold and a full-blown flu attack by protecting your immune system. Joel Fuhrman, M.D., physician and author of Super Immunity, told BuzzFeed Life that green cruciferous vegetables, berries, mushrooms, and onions “the main foods that build up your immune system.”
Fuhrman also suggested sticking to a nutritious diet for months leading up to flu season, since it can take a while to build up your immunity.
Next: Follow the eight-hour rule.
3. Get plenty of sleep
If you’re feeling exceptionally tired, it may be more than just the winter blues. Fatigue, an early sign of the flu, will leave you bed-ridden and unproductive. Tong recommended sleeping it off and taking time to let your body fight the virus rather than attempting to power through.
“Your immune system needs time to mount a defense,” he said, “Rest and proper sleep will strengthen your immune system. Sleep as much as possible to give your body a chance to recover.” Try and get your 8 hours a night to strengthen your immune system and potentially fight off the flu as well.
Next: The important thing to keep in mind this flu season.
Always consult your doctor first
We’ve all used the excuse “it’s just a cold,” or “it’ll pass,” however, with the dangerous H3N2 virus running rampant, it’s more important than ever to seek medical attention and direction if you feel a cold coming on. “When it comes to the flu, starting antiviral medicine within the first 48 hours can lead to a shorter and milder illness — so it’s important to act fast,” Tong said.