How to avoid the cost of the flu

Is your throat hurting, your nose starting to run, are you feeling feverish? Yes, the ghastly flu season has arrived and as per usual it comes at a pretty penny.

According to Mariska van Aswegen, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, parents fall ill almost twice as much as anyone else.

“Young children are a reservoir of germs and if they’re at crèche, school or anyplace else where they are around other children, they’re in a super-virus environment, which makes them the perfect vectors for illness and for passing viruses around. Kids hug, touch and cough all over each other. They chew on toys and as a result share their saliva, and then parents hug, kiss and cuddle them. It’s no wonder that the average parent catches a cold more compared to those without children,” she says.

Moneybags writer, Alina Hardcastle explores ways and means for parents, children and people in general to avoid exorbitant medical bills this flu season.

Flu Vaccination

With a prick of needle, the annual flu vaccine can make our lives much easier during the winter season. They are economical, and can protect us and those around us from the dreadful illness.

A flu vaccination, which is about R150, is the single best way to prevent the flu. Protection can vary depending on who is being vaccinated and how well matched the vaccine is with circulating viruses; and children as young as six months can receive the vaccine.

When asked what the optimum time to get the vaccination, Dr Jan Nel states: “I would say the ideal time frame would be more or less one to two months before the dawn of winter, to give your body enough time to build up its antibodies. You cannot be vaccinated during an active cold/flu.”

Boost your immune system

“The best way to boost one’s immune system is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of fresh foods. At least five to eight servings of vegetables and fruit is important to provide vitamins and minerals that keep the immune system healthy. In addition, daily intake of low fat meat and meat alternatives, low fat dairy, whole grains, healthy fats and water are an important part of a healthy diet,” says Zelda Ackerman, a spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA).

Nel stresses the importance of building and maintain your immune system throughout the year, especially during the colder season.

Supplements

Nel personally believes in taking optimum dosages of certain supplements instead of just a daily multivitamin. If he has any indication of flu like symptoms he immediately increases his dosage of vitamin c, zinc and echinacea and advices parents ask pharmacists for the correct/maximum dosage of those supplements for children.

Ackerman on the other hand states that up to date research has failed to show a benefit of natural therapies like garlic and echinacea; vitamin c could prevent a cold for those who are exposed to periods of severe physical exercise; and that zinc supplements taken within 24 hours of onset symptoms may reduce common cold like symptoms.

Ackerman, who has conducted an in depth evaluation on supplements, reveals that the best multivitamin-mineral for children between six and 59 months is either Mi-Vitamin MixMe Vitamin Mineral Powder, Emvit sprinkles, Vidaylin plus iron, or Vitabiotics WellKid Baby and Infant. Children between four and eight years should be taking Mi-Vitamin Vitamin Mineral Supplement. For children three to 12 years old, Ackerman advises Vitabiotics Well Kid Smart Chewable, Centrum Kids, or TurboKidz Smart Multi Chews.

Diet

Children and parents need to follow a healthy balanced diet incorporated into their daily lives.

Ackerman informs us that each meal should consist of three food groups: your body building food (meat, eggs, full-fat dairy, or poultry), an energy food (starch and small amounts of healthy fats) and protective food (fruits and vegetables); and snacks should consist of fruit, vegetables or unsweetened, low fat dairy products.

Ackerman adds: “Specific nutrients that are needed to ensure a strong immune system are protein, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, D, C, E and B6.”

These nutrients can be found in liver, meat, chicken, fatty fish, eggs, dark leafy or orange/yellow vegetables, citrus fruit, strawberries, guavas, enriched margarines, nuts, seeds, wholegrains and legumes.

Foods to avoid

Ackerman also adds that foods with empty calories should be avoided.

“These include foods high in sugar and fat that are low in nutrients, such as sweets, biscuits, chocolates, cold drinks, crisps and takeaways. Foods with empty calories fill one’s stomach leaving a child with a poor appetite for healthy food. Important vitamins and minerals are thus lacking which may leave the immune system vulnerable. These foods should be limited in general, not only during illness,” says Ackerman.

Handwashing /hygiene

“You can’t tell parents not to hug and cuddle their child. But try to prevent droplet transmission, or keep it as far as you can to a minimum. Wash your hands very often, every time after handling your child,” says Nel.

Regardless if your child is sick, keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection and illness. You should pay special attention to any time you’ve been out in public, touching door knobs, after you use public toilets, any time before or after you eat, and before or after you use a computer keyboard.

Van Aswegen informs us that this could reduce the chances of your child catching a cold by 30% to 50%.

She adds: “The best and most practical way of protecting yourself (and your family), is to practise proper handwashing techniques and to do so often.”

Wash your hands with soap for about 20 seconds, then using warm water rinse thoroughly. Proper hand washing is very important to avoid getting the flu.

Touching your eyes, nose and mouth is a big no; germs thrive in warm and moist places. So, do all that you can to not touch these areas when your hands are dirty.

Face masks

The face mask can be either highly effective or pretty much useless, all depending on where it’s worn and what you’re protecting either yourself or others from.

The fairly loosely fitting, disposable face masks prevent large droplets of bodily fluids that may contain viruses from escaping via the nose and mouth, and can protect you against splashes and sprays such as a sneeze or cough.

Van Aswegen adds: “Also use your judgement about your own situation. If you are pregnant and have had several bouts of flu or have a new born, you may actually want to wear a mask.”

And if you don’t have a mask it would be best to avoid certain places as much as possible, with or without flu like symptoms. “Stay out of waiting rooms in doctor’s offices, emergency rooms and the shops, and avoid public transport as much as possible,” advises Van Aswegen.

Antibiotics

Many of us rely on antibiotics to hasten the recovery process, but this could result in chronic illness later down the line.

Nel highlights: “Another very important fact is to stay away from antibiotics as far as you can. We see a build-up of resistance, it destroys our immune function (about 90% of our immune is associated with out gut flora) and most of the times antibiotics are not indicated at all but seen as a quick fix (wrongfully).”

Final tip

If you’re trying to avoid the cold or the flu this season, make time for sleep. You should be getting at least eight hours of sleep, if you are getting less it makes you more susceptible to viruses and diseases.

And if you do fall prey to the flu, Nel emphasises the importance of staying at home, to avoid contact with others, bed rest, increasing your fluid intake, and increasing your supplement intake if you have already caught the flu.



Seasons are changing and with it the increased chances of snotty noses and chest infections. But some people believe that with a tiny prick you could avoid a trip to the doctor this season. There are however many misconceptions around the flu and its vaccine. As in any medical case, seeking trusted sources and facts behind common assumptions and practices is especially important. Let’s see if you have all your flu-facts straight with these myths and truths.

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