In the years since my IPF diagnosis, I’ve became fearful of many things. Some of my fears came from thoughts I had buried deep inside my mind, which I didn’t dare speak about out loud, whereas other fears developed as a result of experience. One thing I wasn’t scared of initially when I was diagnosed was cold and flu season, however, after being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) a few years back as a result of a viral infection; the fear of cold and flu season has since developed and intensified.
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies cold and flu season as beginning in October, with peak prevalence of influenza between December and February. This means that we’re in the season where colds and flus are starting to circulate, and I can feel my fear and anxiety rising as those around me are coughing, sneezing and sniffling.
Contrary to popular belief, the flu isn’t just characterized by vomiting and other gastro-intestinal (GI) related issues. The flu virus can also severely affect the respiratory system, which poses significant risk to those of us living with life-threatening lung conditions such as IPF. Unfortunately, the risk of exposure and contracting the flu or other respiratory viruses for those of us living with IPF increases as a result of being immune-compromised. Patients living with IPF are considered high-risk when it comes to catching the flu because of our weakened immune systems.
It is not always possible to avoid catching the flu or other types of illness as a chronically ill patient, however, we all have a responsibility to be proactive in protecting ourselves. Not only is it important for patients to take precautions and steps to keep themselves healthy; this is also critically important for those in care-giving roles as well.
Here are a few precautions and preventive measures you can take to stay healthy:
- Carry & use hand-sanitizer regularly: While I can’t confirm which brand is most effective, a close friend of mine who is a nurse told me about the importance of using hospital-grade hand sanitizers. The ones that smell nice from soap stores or homemade versions of hand sanitizers are typically less effective. Cut the enjoyable scent and use hospital-grade hand sanitizers to help eliminate germs off public surfaces, which you may touch and then bring in contact with your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Be possessive of your items & wipe down afterwards: did you know that your phone is one of the fastest ways to spread germs? Many of us, myself included, hand over our phones to others to show photos, read a text or make a call for us, however, this is one of the fastest ways to transmit viruses. Other items that people carry for me frequently include my portable oxygen concentrator (POC), purse or water bottles. If someone touches your personal items, take the initiative to wipe them down with a germicidal wipe, which kills cleans 99.99 percent of microorganisms. Keep this in mind for public use items as well including grocery cart handles, doorknobs, computer keyboards or shared phones.
- Wear a mask or avoid public spaces: I am very selective about which social events to attend during cold and flu season, because the fear of getting sick is overbearing sometimes. If you know someone is ill, avoid them or the areas they frequent. Patients with IPF should be proactive in taking precautions to avoid illness in places with large crowds as well, such as airports, public transit or office environments. If you must be present in these spaces, wearing a mask is important.
- Drink lots of fluids, eat well and get your rest: while this is important throughout the year, doing these tasks helps keep your immune system as strong as possible.
- Add vitamin C to your medication routine: Increase your vitamin C intake: adding vitamin C to your daily routine could help strengthen your immune system. Whether you take a vitamin C tablet, or increase the amount of foods you consume that are rich in vitamin C; both should help with keeping you healthy this cold and flu season.
- Fist pump, don’t shake hands: after falling ill in May of 2017 from a respiratory virus, landing me in the ICU, I’ve stopped shaking others’ hands. I never want to come off as rude or uninviting, however, I prioritize keeping other people’s germs away from me. In an effort to do this, I no longer shake others’ hands and instead offer a fist pump upon greeting someone new. This is especially true around the holidays, where there are many hugs and kisses underneath the mistletoe.
In addition to these precautions, you can also inquire with your doctor on receiving the flu shot. What things do you do to stay healthy during flu season? Tell me in the comments below!