Three Surprising Ways to Avoid the Flu

Doc's note: Last week, I shared part one of our interviews with Dr. Param Dedhia where he explained how this year's flu season will be different, when you should get your flu shot, and his tip for getting the most out of your flu vaccine.

In today's issue, Health & Wealth Bulletin Managing Editor Laura Bente asked Param what we can do to reduce our risk of getting the flu. And he shared three simple steps you can take every day to stay safe during this cold and flu season... (Edited for length and clarity.)

Laura Bente: Last week, you told readers that to lower their risk of the flu is to continue what we've already done for COVID-19... maintaining social distancing and keep washing our hands. What else should folks focus on?

Dr. Param Dedhia: Right now, we know that the best thing to do is practice social distancing. What we've got to focus on is decreasing the risk of transmission. The flu and COVID-19 are transmitted through contact droplets and what we call fomites – different things that can carry the virus. So you want to keep washing your hands and social distancing.

Here's the thing that I'm always amazed we don't speak about enough. The nasal passage and oral passage are where the majority of this stuff is coming into. These viruses come in through our nose and out through our mouth.

The biggest risk is the viral load... how much we accumulate in our nasal passage and our throats. That's where a saline rinse, saltwater gargle, and making sure we're well hydrated help out. The saliva in our throats and the nasal droppings (snot) in our head make it a lot easier for bacteria, viruses, and any infection to just stay there. So it's better that a person clear out their nasal and oral passages.

This is why I love salt. Salt has been shown to be antiviral and antibacterial. I'm not saying it's a cure for COVID-19, but we should do whatever we can to decrease the accumulation of a virus. There has to be a certain load of this that tips it over to a higher likelihood.

Laura: So the nasal rinsing and saltwater gargling help to decrease that viral load?

Dr. Dedhia: Exactly. And again, we talked about this early on, but as I've said, there's a fatigue of information and news going on. But people still need to be paying attention to what they're doing.

I would encourage everyone to consider a nasal saline wash, saltwater gargling, and to stay well hydrated. Those are little things I want everyone to do.

Laura: Do you recommend folks use a saline rinse and gargle with saltwater once a day?

Dr. Dedhia: A minimum of once a day. For me, I do it in the mornings. But I'll also do it again when I get home from the office, especially if I've seen a patient who might be sick.

Laura: What can folks use to keep their nasal passages clear?

Dr. Dedhia: A neti pot. This has been around for a long time, so it's not a fad. And you can carry it around in your purse or bag. If you've been in a high-risk setting, you can flush out your nasal passage relatively easily. You can also gargle anywhere. Just keep a small packet of salt with you and add it to a bit of water. It's not pleasant. It doesn't taste great. But it helps.

I don't want to make this complicated for people. I'm trying to make it simple.

Laura: You also mentioned hydration. Can you explain that more?

Dr. Dedhia: We talked about this in our article on travel – salt water and hydration. People need to hydrate better. We keep forgetting how important hydration is. It's a great way for us to improve our immune system. Salt gets absorbed really well. If you can remember back to high school chemistry, water follows salt. So if you can absorb salt, you can bring more water into your body. These are some of the beautiful parts of thinking about the benefits of salt.

Laura: Salt has a bad reputation. We hear from lots of folks who try to reduce their salt intake.

Dr. Dedhia: Yeah, so that brings up the salt in our food versus when we're dehydrated. I'm not saying you need more salt. You need to look at a person and ask, "Are you well hydrated? Do you need to hydrate better?" And if you are needing to hydrate better – meaning that you're in a certain situation where you're not taking in enough water and getting dehydrated – take something with a little bit of salt to get yourself hydrated.

Laura: So what you're saying is that sodium helps our bodies absorb water better, which helps us hydrate better?

Dr. Dedhia: Exactly. Here at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, people are exercising and eating a low sodium diet. If they start feeling lightheaded and a little bit weak, I say, "Alright, you're going to take some soup." They should start feeling better in about half an hour.

Laura: Those seem like pretty simple ways to stay healthier. Any final thoughts for our readers?

Dr. Dedhia: Let's all be humble right now. This situation is hard. We can't be lectured, but we just need to be reminding ourselves what is helpful and what's not helpful. I want to help people remember what's helpful and then go from there.

Laura: Thanks for taking the time to share these tips with our readers.

And to all our readers out there, how are you staying safe? What questions do you still have? Let us know... [email protected].

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig with Laura Bente
October 6, 2020