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Prairie Fare: Follow the CDC’s 3 Actions to Fight the Flu

Get a flu shot and wash your hands regularly to help keep yourself from getting sick. (Photo courtesy of typexnick, morgueFile) Get a flu shot and wash your hands regularly to help keep yourself from getting sick. (Photo courtesy of typexnick, morgueFile)
Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist (NDSU photo) Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist (NDSU photo)
The flu can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Lately, people have been sniffling and coughing around me. I practically run down the hallway to escape the germs. I thought about barricading my office door or wearing a surgical mask.

I’m really not a “germophobe.” I had the flu a couple of years ago and was bedridden for four days after not using any sick leave for several years. After that experience, I decided to take precautions to avoid having a recurrence of fever, body aches, coughing, chills and fatigue.

With a trip coming up involving air flight, I nearly sealed my office door with crime tape to prevent any coughers or snifflers from entering my office.

Having a bad cold when the airplane cabin is being pressurized feels like my head is being vacuum-packaged.

When I went in for my recent annual checkup, I had my sleeve rolled up before my health-care provider even asked me about getting a flu shot.

Colds and flu are a little different, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although both are caused by viruses, the flu tends to have more severe symptoms, such as a fever. While having a stuffy nose is frustrating, colds usually do not become life-threatening cases of pneumonia.

Getting the flu can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia, which can result in hospitalization or even death, especially among older adults.

According to researchers, cold viruses can survive on indoor surfaces for up to seven days, with their ability to cause infection decreasing after 24 hours. Some infectious cold viruses can survive on hands for up to one hour. Infectious flu viruses can survive on the hands for 15 minutes and on hard surfaces for 24 hours. Flu viruses also can survive as air droplets for several hours.

The CDC promotes three actions to fight the flu.

The first action step is to get a flu shot. I can check that step off my list. Can you?

The second action step is to avoid close contact with sick people. I was sufficiently antisocial to meet that requirement lately. In fact, if you are sick with flulike symptoms, stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone. Be sure to cover your cough with a tissue or cough into your elbow.

Washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways to prevent infection and keep your immune system healthy. You should scrub your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. You can sing “Happy Birthday” twice to make sure you are scrubbing your hands long enough. Using soap and friction to wash our hands helps lift dirt, grease and disease-causing germs.

If you use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, be sure they contain at least 60 percent alcohol and are used as directed on the package.

The third action step from the CDC is to take antivirals if your health-care provider prescribes them. Follow the directions of your health-care provider or pharmacist.

What about nutrition? Have you ever heard that you should take vitamin C or zinc to prevent a cold?

According to an article in the Harvard Health Letter, taking vitamin C to prevent and/or treat colds has produced inconsistent results in research. Taking vitamin C to prevent a cold had little, if any, effect.

Although no randomized trials have been conducted to assess the effects of increased fluid intake in adults during a cold, fluids are important. Fluids, particularly hot fluids, help keep mucus moist and loose and can unplug nasal passages. Also, if you have a fever, fluids can keep you from becoming dehydrated.

Soup is a common at-home remedy to treat colds because it is easy for the body to digest. Some evidence indicates that soup can help remove mucus from the body faster than a hot beverage. In addition, soup provides fluids and may contain a combination of vitamins, minerals and protein that can aid the immune system.

Inhaling steam from a teakettle or in a hot shower can help open nasal passages, too.

Keep your immune system functioning well this winter. Eat a healthful diet with plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein, healthful fats, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Be active at least five days per week, aiming for 30 to 60 minutes of activity each day. Manage stress and get plenty of sleep. Drink in moderation, if at all, and limit your intake of fatty foods and avoid tobacco.

Visit for more information about colds and the flu.

Here’s a tasty recipe with plenty of naturally vitamin-rich, colorful vegetables to nourish your body.

Personalized Homemade Vegetable Soup (Slow Cooker or Stovetop)

2 c. vegetable broth

1 c. water (can add more or less)

2 medium carrots, sliced

1 medium potato, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 c. fresh or frozen cut green beans

1 c. diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)

1 c. roasted turkey, chicken, pork or beef (if desired)

To personalize this recipe, add your vegetables of choice in the same amounts shown in the recipe. If you prefer more broth, simply add more vegetable broth.

Pour stock and water into slow cooker, add ingredients and let cook on medium for five to six hours or low for seven to eight hours (or until vegetables are tender). To cook on stovetop, add all ingredients to a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for about 60 minutes (or until vegetables are tender).

Makes eight servings. Without added meat, each serving has 35 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 180 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Nov. 5, 2015

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
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