Dec. 14, 2012

Protect Yourself This Cold and Flu Season

The cold and flu season is upon us again, and this year it has gotten off to "about the earliest start in the last decade," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High incidences of flu have been reported in the south and southeast portions of the United States. Some of you may already have been dealing with these annual nuisances. As a Health Educator for the Lupus Foundation of America, I get dozens of calls during this season each year, from people with lupus worried about themselves or family members catching a virus or developing an infection.

When you have lupus, you have to be careful to protect yourself from viruses because they have the potential to not only make you feel horrible from the illness itself, but to cause a flare or increased activity of your lupus, providing a double whammy. The use of strong immune suppressants may put some of you at an even higher risk for contracting a virus. This is because the goal of lupus treatment is to suppress your immune system so that it does not produce auto (self) antibodies that cause lupus symptoms. When your immune system is suppressed, you have the potential for increased chances of catching viruses and infections. In other words, your body is a breeding ground for those pesky flu germs.

So how can you best try to avoid a cold or the flu? A good place to start is to talk to your doctor about your annual flu vaccine. The early reports are that this year’s vaccine formula is a good match for the types of flus that are being reported throughout the United States. You can read more about the annual flu and pneumonia vaccine on the Lupus Foundation of America website.

While nothing is 100 percent fool-proof, some simple steps you may want to keep in mind to help lessen the possibility of getting a cold, the flu, or other virus include:

  • Avoid anyone—including family members—with symptoms of fever (over 100º F), nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Specifically, you should avoid close, personal contact, such as hugging, kissing, and shaking hands.
  • Wash your hands (tops, palms, and fingers) frequently with hot, soapy water for at least 15 seconds.
  • Remember that surfaces—especially in bathrooms, on shared office equipment, on store countertops, gas pump handles, any surface of the car, and in restaurants—can expose you to germs. Keep alcohol-based gel or wipes handy, both out in public and at home.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Use the crook of your arm to shield coughs and sneezing. Do not use your hands or handkerchiefs as they carry moisture that spread viruses.
  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick.
  • Please remember that you should never discontinue medications used to treat your lupus without first consulting with your doctor.

The Lupus Foundation of America wishes you a happy and healthy holiday season. We invite you to call one of our health educators if you have any questions. Please visit our website at www.lupus.org where you will find valuable information and resources to help you live your best life with lupus.

**

Dawn E. Isherwood, RN, BSN, is Health Educator for the Lupus Foundation of America. She can be reached at 800-558-0121


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