The Flu is Upon Us
It’s flu season. And, every year as flu season comes around I increasingly want to live in a bubble. I don’t like getting sick any more than the average person, but when it comes to the flu, I get kind of crazy. Since I was diagnosed, I have had it drilled into my head by my doctors and specialists how dangerous getting the flu with MS is. In case you’re wondering why I’m such a crazy person when it comes to the flu, it's because the flu triggers relapses.1,2
How does the flu affect MS?
Studies have shown that both Influenza A and B can trigger MS relapses. It was kind of unclear as to why until recently. According to an article about a study of mice models published in August of last year, the flu trips some sort of an “on” switch in the body.1 They said that certain genes are turned on, and this allows more immune cells to make it from other parts of the body into the central nervous system. This causes damage that is typical of MS. Upon closer investigation, they found that there was an increase in glial activation in the brains of mice infected with the flu.2 If you’re like me and aren’t sure what exactly glial cells are, allow me to explain. Glial cells surround neurons and provide support and protection. They are the most abundant cell type in the central nervous system. According to the scientists, when glia becomes activated, it is one of the triggers that cause immune cells to travel to the brain. Once the immune cells reach the brain, they attack the myelin which causes neurologic dysfunction. So without using too many scientific terms, what they are saying is: when we get the flu, something turns a switch that activates our MS. For lack of better words, it's best for us to avoid the flu if possible.
Precautions you and your family can take
It's basically impossible to avoid all of the coughing and sniffling that goes around this time of year. But, there are precautions you and your family can take so that everyone can avoid the flu and avoid potential relapses. As much as I would like to live in a flu protected bubble, I know that isn’t realistic, so these are the precautions I take instead:
Get your flu shot!
I know vaccines can be controversial, but I am a firm believer in the flu shot, at least for myself. This is the number one way to avoid getting the flu. The National MS Society says that the flu shot has been studied extensively, and that it is considered quite safe regardless of the disease-modifying drug you are taking.3 But of course, if there is any doubt, please consult your neurologist. While the flu shot does not guarantee you won’t get the flu, it will protect you against the viruses that are the most common.
Probiotics are your friend!
Once again, consult your doctor before beginning anything new, but probiotics have absolutely saved my immune health. Probiotics promote a healthy digestive tract and a healthy immune system. They are friendly, good, and healthy bacteria that help keep the harmful bacteria away.
Wash your hands!
This is probably the most simple thing you can do to avoid illness. But, it isn’t done correctly often enough, or there wouldn’t be reminders everywhere to do it. I’m not going to tell you how or when to wash your hands, because I know you know how. Just do it, people!
Keep your distance
Try your best when around someone that is coughing and sneezing to stay at least 3 feet away. The flu virus likes to hang around in respiratory secretions that travel through the air in small droplets. So when you cough and sneeze, those secretions go flying. Since there’s no way to know if they aren’t actively showing symptoms, that the person beside you has the flu, the safest thing to do is keep your distance. I’m not saying go crazy and stay away from everyone, just be more aware.
Keep your hands away from your face
Simply put, you risk getting sick when you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face, especially your nose and mouth.
Get a good amount of rest
When we have adequate sleep, our immune systems function better to prevent respiratory viruses like the flu. So, get those zzz’s!
Keep common every day surfaces clean
At work or at home, keep your surfaces clean. The flu virus can stay around without a host for 24 hours, so you should wipe down things such as phones, door handles, and light switches. This isn’t always a sure fire way to avoid the flu, but it could help.
Sharing isn't always caring!
Do not kiss or share food/drink with someone who is sick. Pretty straightforward and common sense. If you know your loved one is sick avoid sharing anything with them, including those sweet kisses!
And, last but not least: please, please stay home if you’re sick. If you’re experiencing symptoms, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours, even after your fever is gone. The flu is scary, for those of us with MS, and for everyone else who has compromised immune systems. I hope, for everyone’s sake, that we can avoid it and that this year isn’t as terrible as the last! Stay healthy, friends!
Do you live with any comorbidities aside from MS?