To Your Heath/Live Longer: How to Avoid the Flu

To Your Heath/Live Longer: How to Avoid the Flu

This summer, the Telluride Ski Resort and The Peaks Resort & Spa plan to host a series of week-long wellness intensives – Live Longer Retreat –  to support your (recurring) New Year’s resolution to get healthy and therefore live well longer. The program is led by Dr. Alan Safdi, a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine. Safdi also has a gift for delivering evidence-based medical findings for healthier living in easily digestible sound bytes. 

In the run-up to the retreats, Dr. Safdi plans to post regular updates on Telluride Inside… and Out based on the latest, closely vetted research in health, wellness and longevity. 

This week, Dr. Safdi talks about “How to Avoid the Flu.”

And feel free to sign up now to participate in a Live Longer at or call 1-877-448-5416 for further information.


Looking for ways to avoid being struck down by the flu? Although complete immunity can’t be guaranteed, here are some top tips that might just protect you from becoming yet another victim of this year’s vicious infection.

The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza types A and B viruses. Flu activity generally begins in October in the US and peaks December through February, though some seasons last as late as May. Between 9.2 million and 35.6 million cases of flu arise each year in the United States. The illness is responsible for around 140,000–710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000–56,000 deaths annually.

Although flu and the common cold share many symptoms, they are vastly different.

For example, symptoms of cold arise gradually and are milder than those of flu, whereas symptoms of flu come on quickly, are intense, and may result in severe health problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, and hospitalizations.

Certain groups of people are at a greater risk of experiencing complications from flu. Such groups include young children, pregnant women, adults over the age of 65 years, and those with chronic medical conditions.

And, unless you lock yourself away from everyone and everything, there is no foolproof strategy for dodging the flu completely. That said, steps can be taken to minimize your exposure, build up your immunity, and reduce your risk of infection.

Here are some recommendations on how to avoid the flu.

1. Get a flu shot.

Getting a flu shot is the single best thing that you can do each flu season to protect yourself from severe illness. Seasonal flu shots—created to protect against three or four flu viruses  believed to be the most common during a specific flu season—are vaccines that are usually injected into the arm with a needle.

Vaccines trigger antibodies to develop in the body, usually within two weeks of being given the shot. The antibodies provide protection against the strains of flu infection contained in the vaccine.

Although a flu shot may cause side effects in some people, it cannot cause flu illness. The flu vaccine saved 40,000 lives in the US between 2005 and 2014. It can decrease the likelihood of complications and death, even when the infection has taken hold.

Who should get the flu shot?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone over the age of six months should get an annual flu vaccination. Several different shots are available depending on age and whether a person is pregnant or has a chronic health condition.

Children under six months old are too young to receive a flu shot. People with life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine or those who have had Guillain-Barré syndrome are also at risk and should discuss the shot with their doctor before getting vaccinated.

Between 151 million and 166 million doses of injectable flu vaccine are estimated to be available for the 2017–2018 flu season. When the supply of the vaccine is limited, priority will often be given to:

• Children aged between six months and four years
• Adults aged 50 years and over
• Those with chronic pulmonary disorders or who are immunosuppressed
• Pregnant women
• Children and adolescents on long-term aspirin therapy
• People who work in chronic care facilities and health-care personnel
• Individuals with a BMI of 40 or more

With people at risk of heart disease, their risk of heart attack is  six times higher in the first seven days of flu.

Does the flu shot work?

When the flu vaccine is “well matched” to the circulating flu viruses, a flu shot can reduce the risk of flu by 40%–60%.

A good match occurs when the viruses in the vaccine and the circulating flu viruses in any given flu season are closely related. The antibodies generated as a result of the vaccine will then effectively protect against infection.

If the viruses contained in the vaccine and the circulating viruses differ, the flu shot’s effectiveness is generally reduced. In mismatched seasons, however, a vaccine can still provide some protection against flu illness and related flu viruses.

Recent research has found that the seasonal flu shot:

• Prevents severe flu in older adults and reduces admissions to the hospital
• Reduces hospitalization from serious flu complications by 60% in children
• Decreases flu cases by 70% in infants under six months whose mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy
• Reduces hospital admissions in people with type 2 diabetes by 30% for stroke, 22% for heart failure, and 15% for pneumonia and flu
• Does not heighten susceptibility to infection from flu during seasons of vaccine mismatch

Scientists worldwide are currently working to develop a “universal” flu vaccine that would make yearly vaccinations a thing of the past. A one-shot universal flu vaccine would aim to protect against all—or almost all—seasonal and pandemic flu strains.

2. Practice good health habits

As well as getting vaccinated, good health habits also act as a line of defense against the flu.

Flu is extremely contagious, able to spread from one person to anyone standing within six feet of  droplets produced when coughing, sneezing, or talking or simply by touching contaminated surfaces.

A study that was conducted by the University of Maryland in Baltimore found that those with flu contaminate the air around them simply by breathing.

Other research demonstrated that a drop of the virus on a single doorknob or tabletop can spread the virus  to 40%–60% of workers and visitors within just two to four hours of contamination.

The findings highlight the importance of good hygiene practices in the workplace and public places, plus the need to get home as soon as possible when symptoms of flu begin.

Following a few simple steps can minimize the spread of flu viruses:

1. Avoid close contact with those who are sick or other people if you are sick.
2. If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home from school or work for at least 24 hours after your fever has disappeared.
3. Use a tissue to cover your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing. Dispose of the tissue immediately after use.
4. Regularly wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
5. Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without first washing your hands to ensure they are germ-free.
6. Clean and disinfect surfaces that people come into contact with at work, school, or home.
Research conducted by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor indicated that hand hygiene and wearing surgical masks reduced the spread of flu-like symptoms by up to 75% in university residence halls.

3. Try flu antiviral drugs

Flu antiviral drugs are prescription medications that reduce flu severity and complications and prevent you from getting flu when taken before getting sick.

Antiviral drugs work by fighting the flu virus and preventing it from multiplying in your body.

Treatment is not required for most people with uncomplicated flu. Symptoms start to improve with plenty of rest, fluids, and use of over-the-counter medicines.

Your doctor might prescribe antiviral drugs as a treatment or preventative option if you are at an increased risk of severe flu complications.

So far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved three flu antiviral drugs that are recommended by the CDC against the current circulating flu viruses:

• Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)
• Zanamivir (Relenza)
• Peramivir (Rapivab)

When antivirals are used within two days of flu symptoms starting, they may reduce symptoms and shorten the time a person is sick. Antivirals may also prevent ear infections in children and hospitalizations and pneumonia in adults.

Antivirals can also reduce the risk of death in individuals with flu severe enough to be admitted to the hospital.

While antivirals might be a potential treatment option, some doctors approach them with caution in treating the flu. The Cochrane Collaboration and The BMJ conducted research in 2014 that questioned the benefits and explored the harms of Tamiflu and Relenza.

Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for the flu vaccine.

4. Maintain your immune system

The immune system protects your body from infection. When it is in tiptop shape and functioning properly, the immune system launches an attack on threats—such as flu viruses.

For most individuals, the immune system does a good job of regulating itself. But immune system disorders, allergies, asthma, medications, and autoimmune diseases can all impact how well the immune system works.

Your whole body, including your immune system, when you implement healthy living strategies, such as:

• Consuming a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet
• Exercising frequently
• Aiming for a healthy BMI
• Sleeping for 7–9 hours each night
• Reducing stress

Studies have produced some interesting findings surrounding the immune system and flu.

Vitamin D supplements have been demonstrated to halve the risk of respiratory infections, such as flu, in people with low baseline vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays a vital role in the functioning of the immune system.

Lactobacillus brevis—a type of lactic acid bacteria—from a pickled turnip popular in Japan was found to be protective against flu infection in mice by increasing immune system molecules in the body.

Flavonoids, which are found in blueberries, red wine, and black tea, can help control immune response by working with gut microbes to protect against severe flu infections.

Regular moderate exercise can cut respiratory infections by one-third, while strenuous exercise may cause a two- to six-fold increase in the risk of infection. Those findings show that physical activity can have either a positive or negative effect on the function of the immune system.

5. Quit smoking

Quitting smoking is a very useful preventative measure against flu—not only for you, but also for your children, family, or anyone else living close by.

People who smoke have a much more exaggerated response to viruses, including the flu.

Flu virus symptoms that are often mild in those who do not smoke can have a severe effect on people who do. In fact, smokers are more likely to die than non-smokers during flu epidemics.

Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT, conducted an experiment revealing that exposure to cigarette smoke from two cigarettes per day for just two weeks triggered an overreaction in the immune system of mice when exposed to the flu virus. Although the immune systems of the mice cleared the flu virus normally, there was inflated inflammation and higher levels of tissue damaged than was expected.

These findings suggest that flu severely affects people who smoke not because they can’t fight it off, but because their immune system overreacts.

Lead author Dr. Jack A. Elias, the chair of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, compared the reaction of smokers with using a sledgehammer rather than a fly swatter to get rid of a fly.

The University of Rochester Medical Center in New York also discovered that “children who are exposed to secondhand smoke” have a higher chance of needing intensive care and longer hospital stays when hospitalized with flu.

More about Dr. Alan Safdi:

Dr. Alan Safdi is a board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Gastroenterology and a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. A proven leader in the healthcare arena, Safdi has been featured on the national program “Medical Crossfire” and authored or co-authored numerous medical articles and abstracts. He has been an investigator in over 581 studies and is President of both the Consultants For Clinical Research and the Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute.

Dr. Safdi has been involved in grant-based and clinical research for about 35+ years and is passionate about disease prevention and wellness, not just fixing what has gone wrong. He lectures internationally on the subjects of wellness, nutrition, and gastroenterology.

More about the other lectures:

A series of lectures given by Dr. Alan Safdi and Dr. William Renner in Telluride is planned for the Spring. The talks on health, wellness, and longevity research target health care providers as well as the general public.

A new workshops targets the veterinary world with lectures and hands-on training for veterinarians in the field of endoscopic therapy in animals. Multiple stations with direct hands-on learning with in-depth lectures with regards to GI disease that can be treated or prevented with endoscopic therapy. For more information, visit the following;; and

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