It’s March, and if you haven’t yet been sick this winter, consider yourself one of the few, and the lucky! But if you’re like most of us, you’ve had one or more infections this winter. From common colds to stomach bugs and flu, it’s all going around. While these is not a lot we can do to treat these illnesses caused by viruses once we get them, there are things we can do to prevent them.
Frequent and adequate washing of hands is one of the best ways to prevent many types of infections. Alcohol hand sanitizers (containing at least 60% alcohol) can be used in place of hand washing if soap and water aren’t available. The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing hands with clean, running water, with the lathering and scrubbing of hands taking at least 20 seconds. Don’t want to count out 20 seconds? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from start to finish two times.
Aside from frequent hand washing, be sure not to touch your face (eyes, nose, and mouth) with unwashed hands.
Then there’s the harder-to-do advice of staying away from those that are sick.
For the common cold and the flu, we have frequent hand washing, staying away from sick people, and not touching our faces. But for the flu, we also have the flu vaccine. Since flu activity is still high, it’s not too late to get your flu shot. Ask your pharmacist or physician to answer your flu vaccine questions.
In addition to the above methods, now we also have a spot of bright news to help prevent the common cold. Recent research published in February 2017 in the British Medical Journal by AR Martineau and colleagues gave us good news about vitamin D and its possible role in preventing upper respiratory infections. The researchers reviewed 25 trials and found that vitamin D supplementation was safe and protected against acute respiratory tract infections (i.e. common colds). The patients that saw the most benefit from vitamin D were those who were deficient in vitamin D to start.
The amount of vitamin D required to see these benefits is less clear. There are also several ways to get an adequate amount of vitamin D. As its nickname as “the sunshine vitamin” indicates, the body makes vitamin D from sun exposure. There are many factors that influence how much sun exposure is needed, such as the season, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, and sunscreen. Very few foods contain vitamin D, but fatty fish and fish liver oils are the best food sources. Small amounts can be found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Milk is a fortified food usually containing 100 IU per cup. Other dairy products are not usually fortified.
Vitamin D supplements are another way many choose to consume their vitamin D. Talk with your pharmacist about the amount of vitamin D you may need to supplement based on your age, dietary considerations, and time spent outdoors.
Hopefully adopting some or all of these recommendations will see your final weeks of winter as healthy ones.
In honor of the recent news about vitamin D, we are holding a Vitamin D Sale. Buy one, get one half off all month long and keep those illnesses at bay. Simply show or tell a Gatti staff member at checkout to redeem the discount for the next time you are in.
The Gatti Blog
Information, tips and more from the Gatti Pharmacists and staff.