Even without the threat of COVID-19, keeping your immune system strong is important during the colder months we call flu season.
COVID-19 is not the only virus that has a lot of asymptomatic people. The flu does too.
A 2009 report in the National Institutes of Health found that one in three influenza-infected individuals is asymptomatic. However, asymptomatic individuals may shed influenza virus, but are less likely to transmit influenza than asymptomatic people with the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, according to 2020 reports by UCHealth.
Before we get to what can help our immunity, let’s look at what the Harvard School of Public Health says are factors that can depress our immune system:
- Older age
- Environmental toxins: Smoke and other particles contributing to air pollution; excessive alcohol
- Excess weight: Obesity is associated with low-grade chronic inflammation
- Poor diet
- Chronic diseases: Autoimmune and immunodeficiency disorders attack and potentially disable immune cells
- Chronic mental stress
- Lack of sleep and rest
Many of these seem pretty standard issues to address for avoiding many health issues, not just lacking immunity. So what helps? Chicken-noodle soup? There is no scientific evidence of that. But well-balanced meals are an excellent place to start.
The image above is Harvard University’s Healthy Eating Plate, which is meant to show a proportional guide for daily nutrition.
Is there any one thing we can eat that helps? Not necessarily. Harvard’s Public Health Departments says, “It is unlikely that individual foods offer special protection. Each stage of the body’s immune response relies on the presence of many micronutrients.”
However they list several vitamins as examples of nutrients that are critical for the growth and function of immune cells:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Protein (including the amino acid glutamine)
Always consult your physician regarding nutrition and use of supplements.
Vitamin D and COVID-19
Unfortunately there are no definitive answers. Harvard Public Health says, “More research is needed before we can definitively say that vitamin D protects against the flu and other acute respiratory infections. Even if vitamin D has some benefit, don’t skip your flu shot. And when it comes to limiting risk of COVID-19, it is important to practice careful social distancing and hand-washing.”
Here is a list of the CDC’s myths and facts about COVID-19 vaccines.
Research on herbals
Echinacea: Cell studies have shown that echinacea can destroy influenza viruses and taking it while healthy may offer a small chance of protection from catching a cold.
Garlic: Likely bout as reliable as it would be for keeping a vampire away. High quality clinical trials comparing garlic supplements to placebo are lacking.
Tea catechins: Cell studies have shown that tea catechins such as those found in green tea can prevent flu and some cold viruses from replicating and can increase immune activity. Human trials are still limited. Two randomized controlled trials found that green tea capsules produced fewer cold/flu symptoms or incidences of flu than a placebo; however both studies were funded or had author affiliations with tea industries.
Recent COVID-19 news
Nov. 5: Pfizer announced its antiviral pill, which is combined with a low dose of an HIV drug called ritonavir, can reduce hospitalizations or deaths from COVID-19 by up to 89% among high-risk patients.
Nov. 2: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children ages 5-11 get a low-dose COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech.
Last month: The CDC recommended a booster shot for individuals who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
The following groups are eligible for a booster shot at six months or more after their initial series:
- 65 years and older
- Age 18+ who live in long-term care settings
- Age 18+ who have underlying medical conditions
- Age 18+ who work or live in high-risk settings
For the nearly 15 million people who got the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, booster shots are also recommended for those who are 18 and older and who were vaccinated two or more months ago.
The U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network monitors outpatient visits for influenza-like illness (fever plus cough or sore throat), not laboratory-confirmed influenza, and will capture visits due to other respiratory pathogens, such as SARS-CoV-2, that present with similar symptoms.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, health care-seeking behaviors have changed and people may be accessing the health care system in alternative settings not captured as a part of ILINet or at a different point in their illness than they might have before the pandemic. Therefore, it is important to evaluate syndromic surveillance data, including that from ILINet, in the context of other sources of surveillance data to obtain a complete and accurate picture of influenza, COVID-19, and other respiratory virus activity.
Pneumonia, influenza and covid-19 mortality
Sources: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harvard School of Public Health, The Associated Press, National Center for Health Statistics
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