Test Your Knowledge About Flu Risks With Arthritis

10 ways to guard against colds and flu in the COVID-19 era.

Protect yourself from the flu
With COVID-19 still circulating and keeping medical centers and personnel busy throughout the country, this is not the time to take the risk of getting the flu and having to receive medical help. The combined threats of flu and COVID-19 put at-risk people — those who are immune-compromised, older adults, and people with other conditions, like heart disease, obesity, diabetes or asthma (who are also more vulnerable to pneumonia) — at even greater risk. In addition to getting vaccinated for both flu and COVID-19, you can take other measures to protect yourself. Test your knowledge of what’s true and what’s false to build your defenses against colds and flu.
Drinking water helps prevent sickness.
True. Liquids can’t flush away viruses, but they prevent dehydration, which can lead to overly dry nasal passages. Moist nasal passages are better able to fight off germy invaders. Nasal mists and nasal saline sprays add moisture, too. It’s worth noting that nasal cells seem to be a key entry point for the coronavirus, which can lead to loss of smell.
Zinc eases cold symptoms.
Maybe. The benefit of zinc for relieving colds and flu has long been a point of contention, and historically, trials have had mixed results. Recently, though, a review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, published in November 2021 in the journal BMJ Open, found that zinc lozenges or nasal spray may help prevent respiratory tract infections and shorten the duration of symptoms. However, many of the trials included in review were small, and zinc formulations and dosages varied. (The trials preceded COVID-19, so it is not addressed. It’s also worth noting that a potential side effect of the nasal spray is loss of smell, which is also a potential symptom of COVID-19.)
Echinacea fights colds.
Maybe, but… While some studies show this herbal supplement reduces cold symptoms if started right away, three large studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found no such benefit. Rheumatologist Ruchi Jain, MD, with Montefiore Health System in New York, says echinacea may have a role in as a preventative, but people who are immune-compromised, including those with autoimmune diseases or taking immune-suppressing drugs, generally should not take this or other immune-boosting supplements. Consult your doctor before trying any supplements, especially if you are immunosuppressed, because they aren’t standardized in the United States and carry potential risks.
Flu is contagious only when symptoms are apparent.
False. As with COVID-19, which you can pass to others even if you never have symptoms, you can infect others with flu without knowing you are sick. Flu is contagious up to a day before symptoms appear and five to seven days after you get sick. Wearing a mask may help protect you and others.
Walk in the sunshine to help prevent colds.
True. Moderate physical activity as well as getting plenty of vitamin D — which the body produces from exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun — both can help fend off seasonal sickness. Studies show vitamin D supplements may help protect against respiratory tract infections as well as colds and flu, Dr. Jain says. Studies so far are conflicting about whether it may also protect against COVID-19. Some studies show people with reduced vitamin D have an increased risk of colds. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, taking vitamin D supplements generally won’t hurt, she adds, and may help those with autoimmune arthritis.
African American and Hispanic people are especially vulnerable to the flu.
True. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these populations are disproportionately affected by conditions like diabetes, obesity, lung and heart disease and compromised immune systems, putting them at greater risk of serious flu. COVID-19, compounded by disparities in health care, also has disproportionately affected African American and Hispanic people.
Loading up on vitamin C can ward off a cold.
False. Dozens of studies have disproved this old saw for ordinary folks; although for some people in extreme conditions, like marathoners, taking 1,000 mg vitamin C regularly during cold season may slightly shorten colds.
You can catch a cold through your eyes.
True. Your eyes are connected to the nasal membranes by the tear ducts, allowing viruses to sneak in through your peepers. Rhinoviruses can live up to three hours on surfaces or on your skin. Cut your risk of colds, flu and COVID-19 by washing your hands thoroughly and often, and by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
Flu shots are not safe if you have an autoimmune form of arthritis.
False. A flu shot contains inactive virus, so it will not give you the flu. However, people with autoimmune forms of arthritis or are otherwise immune-compromised should avoid the nasal-spray version, which contains live virus. If you do get sick with the flu or a cold, your best bet is to rest, drink lots of fluids and tell your doctor, who may advise you to back off certain medications.

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