Our immune system is a complex and delicate ecosystem that fights to protect our bodies from foreign organisms. From infancy to old age, our immune systems change and adapt to the environments around us. Eric Chan, Head of Pharmacy at Blooms The Chemist, shares strategies for supporting immune health this flu season.
What is the flu?
Influenza, commonly known that ‘the flu’ is a viral infection that effects your respiratory system - your nose, throat and lungs. The flu is very contagious, spreading from person to person through tiny droplets released when infected people sneeze, cough or even speak.1 Early flu symptoms may include fatigue, body aches and chills, coughing, a sore throat, fever and a headache.2 As the flu is a progressive virus, the symptoms may potentially worsen to include chest pain, breathing difficulties, bluish skin and lips, severe dehydration, dizziness and confusion, recurring or high fever, and a worsening cough.3
Some groups of people, such as the elderly or immunocompromised, may be more vulnerable to developing serious health complications from the flu virus.4 If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of the flu, it is important that you make time to see your local healthcare practitioner for advice and treatment.
Why is getting a flu shot so important?
While there is no guaranteed way to avoid the flu, there are many ways to minimise your exposure to it, build your immunity and reduce your risk of infection. This includes getting your flu shot.
Flu vaccines help promote herd immunity and help stop the spread of the disease.5 If enough of the population is vaccinated, they can help protect those who are unable to have the vaccine, such as the immunocompromised or young infants under six months of age. With flu season peaking from June to September, Autumn is the optimal time to get vaccinated against the influenza virus. Prevention is better than cure and the best prevention against the flu is an annual vaccination. Blooms The Chemist pharmacies around the country offer Pharmacist-administered flu vaccinations. To learn more and book your appointment visit the Influenza Vaccination Hub.
How does the flu affect your immune system?
Your immune system is one of the most complex systems in the body, made up of various organs, cells and proteins; including your skin, corneas of your eyes, the mucosa of your respiratory system, your gastrointestinal tract, and your lymphatic system.6 When your immune system recognises the influenza virus proteins, white blood cells, known as T lymphocytes, help fight the infection. The T cells do this by proliferating in the lymph nodes and around the lungs and throat, which may lead to inflammation in these areas.
What are some healthy habits people can develop the may help support their immune system through flu season?
Practicing good hygiene
With the flu virus being extremely contagious, adopting heathy hygiene practices is a simple yet effective way of protecting your immune system during the cooler months. Some easy steps include:
* Washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time.
* Cleaning and sanitising surfaces that are touched or used often like keyboards, doorknobs and benches.
* Minimising close contact with those who are unwell.
* Covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
* Avoid touching your face to stop the spread of infection.
Regular exercise is good for both your immune system and mental health. Exercise supports healthy blood flow, which circulates white blood cells around your body. White blood cells are part of the immune system and the body’s first line of defence against foreign organisms like fungi, parasites, viruses and bacteria.
Up to 70 per cent of the immune system is located in the gut. 7 A diverse gut microbiome is essential for maintaining optimal immune system health. 8 Eating a balanced, gut-healthy variety of foods may play a significant role is supporting good immune system health. Each stage of the body’s immune response relies on the presence of a variety of micronutrients. Alongside the beneficial bacteria which live in the gut, nutrients which have been shown to contribute to supporting a healthy immune system include zinc, vitamins C and D, selenium and iron.
Lack of sleep and sleep deprivation may have a significant impact on the immune system. Ensuring you have adequate sleep is essential for optimal performance and health with healthy adults ideally having between seven to nine hours of sleep per night.9 It is during this time when important, immunity-building proteins like Cytokines are released, ultimately helping restore and replenish your body and mind, as well as helping battle infections and viruses.10
To find out more visit https://www.bloomsthechemist.com.au/ .
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Key Facts About Influenza. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm
2 Moghadami M. (2017). A Narrative Review of Influenza: A Seasonal and Pandemic Disease. Iranian journal of medical sciences, 42(1), 2–13.
3 Ghebrehewet, S., MacPherson, P., & Ho, A. (2016). Influenza. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 355, i6258. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6258.
4 Moghadami M. (2017). A Narrative Review of Influenza: A Seasonal and Pandemic Disease. Iranian journal of medical sciences, 42(1), 2–13.
5 Mertz, D., Fadel, S. A., Lam, P. P., Tran, D., Srigley, J. A., Asner, S. A., Science, M., Kuster, S. P., Nemeth, J., Johnstone, J., Ortiz, J. R., & Loeb, M. (2016). Herd effect from influenza vaccination in non-healthcare settings: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials and observational studies. Euro surveillance : bulletin Europeen sur les maladies transmissibles = European communicable disease bulletin, 21(42), 30378. https://doi.org/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2016.21.42.30378
6 Nicholson, L., 2016. The immune system. Essays in Biochemistry, 60(3), pp.275-301.
7 Dongarrà, M., Rizzello, V., Muccio, L., Fries, W., Cascio, A., Bonaccorsi, I., & Ferlazzo, G. (2012). Mucosal Immunology and Probiotics. Current Allergy And Asthma Reports, 13(1), 19-26. doi: 10.1007/s11882-012-0313-0.
8 Caballero, S., & Pamer, E. (2015). Microbiota-Mediated Inflammation and Antimicrobial Defense in the Intestine. Annual Review Of Immunology, 33(1), 227-256. doi: 10.1146/annurev-immunol-032713-120238.
9 Sleep Foundation. (2021). How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need#:~:text=National%20Sleep%20Foundation%20guidelines1,to%208%20hours%20per%20night.
10 Besedovsky, L., Lange, T. and Born, J., 2011. Sleep and immune function. Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology, 463(1), pp.121-137.