Funny, You Don’t Look Fluish

You might have already forgotten about the Great Flu Vaccination Shortage of 2004—you know, the one that had the Kerry campaign whipped into a frenzy last October. But though the issue has disappeared from the cable-news crawls, here in Texas the crisis hasn’t gone anywhere. So should you be panicked if you didn’t get your hands on a flu shot? Consider these statistics: Between 75 and 85 percent of people who don’t get vaccinated never get the flu, and a third of those who do get the shot may come down with the nasty virus anyway. What’s more, according to Robert Couch, an infectious-diseases specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, you still have some weapons in your arsenal.

Follow Your Nose

Ask your doc if he can get ahold of some FluMist. This is an alternative vaccine to the one that’s now in short supply, and as the name gives away, it’s transmitted via a painless nasal spray. And it is just as effective as a flu shot. The one catch is that it is a live virus—as opposed to the crippled stuff that’s used in the typical flu shot—meaning that there is a chance that you may actually give yourself a mild case of the flu. But, says Couch, people with sturdy immune systems—typically those between ages 5 and 49 who don’t suffer from chronic illnesses—shouldn’t have a problem.

Know Your Enemy

“The reason we catch the flu in the cold months is not the cold,” says Couch. “It’s that viruses survive better in the dry winter air and we tend to be inside more, in closer contact with people. The main way to avoid the flu is to not get on an elevator with someone who’s going to cough.” So take the stairs and use common sense. If you shake a lot of hands during flu season, be sure to wash your own as soon as possible afterward. And if you’re surrounded by sneezing and coughing colleagues, politely suggest that they go home; if they won’t, get outta there.

Get Your Head Out Of The Sand.

Okay. So what happens if you think you’re coming down with the flu anyway? One option: Go immediately to your doctor and ask for a prescription for one of the new antiviral medications. A lot of people aren’t aware that these exist, but there are actually four of them on the market now (the two best are Tamiflu and Relenza). Take one of these within 48 hours of the first symptoms of infection and you can shorten the duration of your suffering by at least a day or so. And you’ll be fighting a much stronger battle with an antiviral than with some $12 over-the-counter cough remedy.

Eat That Chicken Soup

I’m not kidding. Any chicken soup—any soup, actually—will do. One of the symptoms of flu is dehydration, and hot liquids are helpful to your system. This is especially true with chicken soup because it contains important nutrients and protein.

Cures for the Common Cold?

Three alternatives to combat winter’s other bug.

Zinc: Some controversy remains about this supplement. But according to a large clinical trial that compared two groups of cold patients, one which took zinc-containing lozenges and the other placebos, the duration of the zinc group’s illness was shortened by an impressive three days. Vitamin C: This is a suspected immune-system booster, but C junkies take note: Studies show that taking too much in supplement form can cause a buildup of free radicals, those dreaded renegade cells that can lead to cancer in some tissues. Echinacea: A lot of people swear by this ancient Indian herbal remedy to fight the first stages of illness. And while the scientific community is still dubious, a couple of studies suggest that, when taken in large dosages (nine hundred milligrams, according to one report), it can give you a bit of an edge in reducing cold symptoms.

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