Autumn days by Rebecca
I am savouring autumn days of sunshine, blue-crisp skies and falling temperatures (a very comfortable maximum of 24C / 75F here in Queensland, Australia): it is my favourite time of the year.
It's also the beginning of cold and flu season.
IBDers at greater risk
As if all the usual symptoms of IBD are not enough of a challenge, IBDers can be more susceptible than healthy people to common infections.
Our bodies are already working hard to control inflammation and/or ulceration and this weakens our ability to resist common infections such as cold and flu. Our natural immunity is further compromised by the immunosuppressive medications often used to treat IBD such as Azathioprine (Imuran), Mercaptopurine (Purinethol, 6-MP) and Prednisone.
A Mayo Clinic study recently reported that the likelihood of developing an opportunistic infection (that is, infection caused by common organisms that would not affect a healthy immune system) is increased for any IBD patient taking immunosuppressive medication, particularly those over 50 or those taking multiple immunosuppressive medications.
How to fight back
Periods of good health do not come easily to IBDers. When we find ourselves in that idyllic state it is usually thanks to a little luck and a lot of attention to our medication, supplements, diet and lifestyle. So it can be very frustrating when all this effort is undone by a common cold, or a dose of the flu. It just isn't fair. But then, as we know, life isn't fair. So what can we do about it?
The question of whether or not to have the flu vaccination seems to incite strong feelings in a lot of people. So much so that I treat the subject the same way as religion and politics - not something to raise in general chit-chat with people I don't know well.
There are those that just don't like needles, or who say that the shot does no good: they get sick anyway. The most extreme anti-believers cite examples of friends and family who became sick (or worse!) after getting the shot.
The fact is, as flagged by the Mayo Clinic study, those on immunosuppressive medications are at higher risk of infection and complications arising from infection.
This is exactly the type of person that health authorities recommend should get the flu vaccine. This article outlines the reasoning and points to published research on the topic.
Better then reading about it on the internet, ask your doctor.
Keep it clean
The viruses which cause colds and flu are transmitted most commonly through the air by coughing and sneezing, by direct contact with infected saliva/nasal secretions, or by contact with surfaces contaminated with these body fluids.
Think about all the surfaces you touch during the day - hand-holds on the train, escalator balustrades, pedestrain crossing buttons, lift buttons, telephones, doorknobs - then think about everyone else who has touched these after they sneezed or coughed into their hand. Finally think about how often you touch your own face, your eyes, nose or mouth, having collected all those communal germs. Gross.
Regular and thorough hand washing is one of the best ways to avoid becoming sick.
How regular? Probably more often then you think - particularly when you have been out and about touching all those contaminated surfaces!
What constitutes thorough hand washing? Lather up well and vigorously rub all over your hands and up your wrists for 15 to 20 seconds. Stick with regular soap; antibacterial soaps are no more effective at killing germs and can lead to the development of stronger bacteria!
The 'no-water required' alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are now available are very effective and convenient - meaning you'll probably clean your hands more often.
No matter how often and how well you wash your hands, it is also a good idea to avoid touching your face to reduce the risk of any transmission.
Create a healthy work environment
I work full-time in a large office building which means I am spending more than 40 hours a week in an environment which is, quite frankly, a haven for sickness.
I breathe recirculated air kept too cool (even in winter) by an old air-conditioning system which has seen better days. There is no natural light. I share this space (and facilities like toilets and a lunch room) with a large group of people who pick up viruses, bring them into work and share them around by coughing and sneezing. I don't mean to sound paranoid, but, well, I am.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says if you are sick, stay home.
Better to miss a few days of work and return at full strength than dragging yourself around at half strength for much longer. The extra bonus is that you won't infect your fellow workers, causing more misery and costing your company more money in lost productivity.
Try and convince your colleagues of this logic so that they too stay home when they are sick. If they don't, avoid close contact.
At work, pay particular attention to hygiene. As well as hand washing, use antimicrobial wipes on your mouse, keyboard and phone.
Keep a plant on your desk; they improve air-quality and reduce stress (which boosts your immunity). Go outside for lunch to get some fresh air and sunshine.
Be kind to yourself
Take care of your body and your immune system so it can take care of you. Get plenty of rest, eat right, stay hydrated and exercise. You know the drill!
Wishing you good health,