From: Raymond A. Faber, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
This is an excellent time of year for family get-togethers, travel, shopping, partying, etc. It’s also an excellent time of year to pick up a flu virus! In October I was laid low by what was probably the H1N1 virus and it wasn’t fun. For those who’ve avoided it thus far, do what you can to avoid being waylaid by it. I’ve been disappointed that news media have not given much in the way of practical suggestions for avoidance of communicable diseases like H1N1. Some suggestions of my own follow.
Hands are the primary vehicle for entry of a virus into your system. We touch a surface such as a door knob with the virus on it and then, unconsciously, touch the mouth or nose with the virus-contaminated hand. Alcohol gel antiseptics work but they must be applied very regularly to avoid the hand-face transfer. The same applies to hand-washing. How often can you really wash your hands? It is more practical to avoid picking up the virus on the hand in the first place. For example, many retailers have automatic-opening doors. If you use them, no hand contact is involved. With manual opening doors, many have bar openers that must be pressed to open. You can usually open these with your arm or even butt—no hand contact involved once again! Other doors have handles that must be opened with a hand. I open these with the middle finger of the left hand (since I’m right-handed the left hand is seldom used to touch the face and even if it is that middle finger isn’t likely to be involved—finally a legitimate use for it!). My personal favorite target is something new. Many retailers have installed electronic signature machines for credit card transactions. How many infected people have touched that pen before you? I refuse to touch them. When I request it, every retailer that I buy from readily provides a paper receipt for signature with the pen that I carry in my pocket at all times. Once again, hand contact with infected surfaces is avoided. One local gasoline retailer has refused to provide paper receipts for signature. Fortunately, other gasoline retailers in Winona do not use these disease transmission devices and my business has been transferred to them.
Even with these precautions, you are likely to be exposed to a flu virus at some point. A healthy immune system is the last wall of defense. I personally take a combination of vitamins and supplements when viruses are going around. Although there is conflicting research on the benefits of some of these substances in strengthening the immune system, each can be considered safe for most people if taken in reasonable doses. This combination, taken once a day when colds and flu are going around, includes a 500 mg vitamin C tablet, a 325 mg aspirin tablet, a 1000 iu vitamin D tablet, a 50 mg zinc tablet and a capsule of Echinacea. The last suggestion is to make sure you get adequate sleep and a reasonable level of physical activity. Doing some or all of these things should help to reduce your chances of experiencing severe illness.