Last year, the H1N1 virus, also known as Swine Flu made headlines all over the world, causing panic to countless people. A vaccine was banged out to a clamoring public, but there were still fatalities. Now it’s flu season again- is it time to worry?
Infections of any type can be a bigger problem when you’re a lupus patient. Medications like prednisone or Cellcept (now being used for those of us with kidney complications) work in part by suppressing our body’s rampant immune systems. On the good side, this is what allows them to stop lupus flares. On the bad side, it also limits our body’s ability to attack infectious invaders. How does this translate to everyday life? Well, once a friend and I went out to eat at a restaurant and got very mild food poisoning. My friend was sick for three days, but was still able to do normal activities. Me? Three weeks. I had to go to specialist twice and do two courses of antibiotics. Not fun. So, when the whole Swine flu hysteria broke out, I was reasonably paranoid about how my system would react if I got infected.
However, I was also suspicious about the vaccine. I’d gotten sick from routine vaccines before and I was worried about getting swine flu from the very actions I was taking to prevent it. My doctors recommended my getting the vaccine- but they kept running out of it as soon as shipments came in. My mother was worried sick about me. What was a girl to do?
In the end, I decided not to get the H1N1 vaccine (I did get the regular flu vaccine though) and resolved to keep myself flu-free the old fashioned way. I didn’t catch any diseases last fall and winter and plan to do the same this season. While the decision as to have a vaccine or not is personal, there are tons of simple things you can do to keep yourself illness-resistant during the flu season.
- Sleep. This is probably the most important suggestion I can give to anybody. Studies have shown that the sleep-deprived have lower disease resistance, are more prone to injury, less attention (meaning you might not realize when you’re exposing yourself to infections) and other health problems. Not sleeping can contribute to stress, which can also affect health. Sleep lets your body rest, restore itself and gather it’s strength- don’t skimp on it. Even if you can’t always get the full amount your body needs, you can help yourself by improving the quality of your sleep. Block out light and disturbing noises as best you can. Relax in a warm bath before going to sleep. Avoid sugar and caffeine a few hours before going to bed. Keep you phone, computer and television off and stowed where they can’t wake you. In my experience, sleep has been my first line of defense in keeping functional. When I don’t sleep well, I feel worse almost immediately.
- Keep clean. While over-sanitizing is harmful as well, moderate germ-killing isn’t a bad idea. Most pharmacies now carry little travel bottles of hand sanitizer and it doesn’t hurt to keep one in your bag or pocket. Use a little to spruce up before you start cooking dinner in the evening or after using the bathroom. As a general rule, try to avoid touching your eyes or mouth while you’re out and about, as those two spots can easily pick up infections from your fingertips. And remember what your mother told you about washing your hands.
- Have a cuppa. Orange juice isn’t the only way to get a little Vitamin C into your life. For a tonic packed full of it (and with less sugar) try making yourself a nice, warm cup of tea using fresh slices of lemon. Rose hips also have some of the highest concentrations of vitamin C in the plant kingdom. A cup in the morning will send you out the door better protected and a cup at night will give your body plenty to build itself back up with- and both are caffeine free! If you’re already a tea drinker, these ingredients are easy to add to your favorite brew. Lemon will give a bright sour taste and depth to any black tea blend (my favorites are Irish Breakfast and Russian Caravan), while rose hips add a fruity flavor and a slightly caramel-like texture that might better suit green tea blends (rose hip and jasmine green tea anyone?).Of course, this list could go on for ages, but these three have kept me in (relatively) good working order over the years and are fabulous places to start building your own arsenal. On a final note, if you start noticing symptoms cropping up despite your efforts, don’t hesitate to see your doctor immediately. A quick shot of prevention can do a lot more than all the aftercare in the world.