Sarah Cannon - January 12, 2015

Runny noses, aching joints, coughs, congestion and elevated temps it's cold-and-flu season once again. While just about anyone is susceptible to cold and flu viruses, cancer patients and caregivers can be especially vulnerable. Cancer patients run the risk of contracting the viruses because their immune system is already overtaxed due to a weakened immune system and the related treatment regimen, and caregivers are often more susceptible because they may be overstressed physically and mentally from their increased level of responsibility.

But while nothing is 100 percent effective against the two main types of influenza virus and more than 200 cold bugs out there, some tactics can be effective in protecting yourself.

Get the flu vaccine.

Everyone, from babies six months to the elderly, should get the flu vaccine. Not a fan of needles? Talk to your doctor about the nasal spray, which is approved for healthy, non-pregnant people age 2-49 years old, and the preferred vaccine for healthy children who are between 2-8 years of age. (Flu vaccines are contraindicated for people who are very sick and have a fever, who have a history of Guillain-Barr syndrome or who have had a severe reaction to vaccination in the past. Children under six months should not be vaccinated.)

Wash your hands.

One of the most common ways people catch colds and the flu is by rubbing their noses or eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the cold or flu virus. A quick rinse won't suffice, make sure you wash 15 to 20 seconds with soap and water. Hum the "Happy Birthday" song twice to make sure you wash long enough. (No soap around? Rubbing alcohol-based cleaners can work in a pinch.)

Ask your doctor about taking an antiviral medication.

While they are not a substitute for being vaccinated, antivirals can help prevent the flu or, if you get it, reduce your symptoms and lower your risk of flu-related complications. If you are hospitalized due to the flu, antivirals may be able to shorten your hospital stay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two antivirals, Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) & Relenza (Zanamivir), for the treatment of the flu. These antivirals work best when started within 48 hours of symptom onset. Two antivirals that target influenza A are Amantadine and Rimantadine.[i]

Try some natural remedies.

Certain remedies such as Andrographis (sometimes called "Indian echinacea"), Echinacea and garlic (just to name three) have shown some cold and flu fighting properties. But since even natural and herbal products can have an undesired effect when taken in conjunction with other medications, discuss their use with your physician.

Take care of yourself.

Give your immune system all the help it can get by getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, drinking plenty of water, engaging in regular exercise and finding ways to manage stress in your life.

Know the difference between "just a cold" and "it's the flu."

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website has a handy chart that spells out the differences between the common cold and the flu. Knowing the difference can let you know if you should just wait it out or call the doctor. A flu can lead to complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia, can worsen chronic conditions, or can be life-threatening, especially in the elderly, those with chronic conditions, young children and pregnant women. But even a cold can lead to complications such as a sinus infection, a middle ear infection or asthma. When it doubt, always check with your doctor.


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Is It A Cold Or The Flu ?