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Bracing for Flu Season

It’s instinctual—I cringe when I hear a cough, see a sneeze. I can’t help it. After years of immunosuppressant drugs, bouts with long-lasting colds plus bronchitis and pneumonia, I am totally paranoid about catching a bug.

I need to take these medications to manage my rheumatoid arthritis, but I hate the increased susceptibility to illness that I experience. To combat it, I take vitamins that I hope boost my immunity a little and am diligent about washing my hands and trying to avoid sick people.

I’m also a big believer in vaccines and regularly get my flu shot every year. I know it isn’t perfect, but the flu shot has helped to keep me healthy and can also make it less severe, should I catch it.

But the biggest struggle I have is people coming to work sick! At my previous job I worked with the boss to explain that it was better if people did not come to work sick. In this day and age, a lot of people can work from home even while sick. But really, if someone is sick they should ideally stay home to rest and recuperate, or visit their doctor. Unfortunately, in our work culture people often work while sick, which lengthens their illness and helps to maximize the spread to others.

A lot of people don’t even have paid sick leave, which means they really feel the financial pressure to work. But recent research underscores that the spread of flu “decreases significantly” when people can count on paid sick leave.

To me this is a no brainer. Of course the flu rate will decrease if people don’t go to work and spread it around to coworkers! Think also of the commuters—the people riding the buses and trains along with the sick people. I know that I have caught various colds from airplane rides and douse myself with antibacterial/viral wash whenever I board.

Perhaps I am selfish to ask contagious people to stay home. But I also think it is for the greater good. Why needlessly get other people sick if you have paid leave? Think about the consequences to people with rheumatoid arthritis and other immune-compromised individuals. If you go to work sick or contagious, we’re not just talking about colds and flu. Often these ‘simple’ illnesses spiral into something else more severe, harder to treat, and very difficult to recover from. This means a lot of time, money, and heartache that could have been prevented simply by a day at home in bed.

So every year I brace myself for cold and flu season. I’ll talk with my doctor about when to get my flu shot. I’ll load up on antibacterial wash and wipes. And I’ll talk with my coworkers about how since I have a suppressed immune system; it would help me if they stay home when they are sick. I’ll ask them to think about staying a distance from me if they feel ill or develop symptoms. My goal is to have them think about their health as part of a community, that we can help each other stay healthy.

When a little thinking ahead can help a whole lot of people, why not? It may sound a little silly or bordering on crazy, but when you have had pneumonia you will do a lot to avoid getting it again! Sometimes it is the simple actions we take that can make the most difference in preserving health and well-being.

What do you do to prepare for cold and flu season? How do you maintain your health with immune-suppressing medications?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Puppin
    3 years ago

    I also used to be paranoid about careless people with bugs. A favorite phrase of a friend as she gave me a hug, “I won’t kiss you because I’m just getting over a cold and I dont want you to get it”, would drive me nuts. Too late!
    But maybe you are noticing my use of the past tense? That’s because I now have a different strategy.
    Like Kelly Mack, I believe in vaccination. But unlike Kelly I don’t just get a flu vaccine, I make sure I get a regular cold vacine too.
    No doubt there is someone out there thinking “there’s no such thing as a cold vaccine”. To some extent they are right, there is no official cold vaccine. But unofficially?
    To understand you have to think about why there is an official flu vaccine but no official vaccine for colds. The reason, I believe, is because the cold mutates much faster than the flu. My understanding is that a vaccine works because prior exposure to something that is similar to the illness, gives you immunity to that illness. The problem with the cold is that it changes so fast, by the time you’ve made a vaccine, it is no longer similar enough to give useful immunity. But you can use this against it.
    If you haven’t had a cold for a while, when you catch it, it’s a very different bug to the one you had last time, your immune system won’t recognise it and you will catch a cold. But what if you caught a cold really frequently? Each time you caught it, it will only have changed slightly, so your immune system would recognise it and deal with it, with you hardly noticing. And now your immune system knows the new form, so the next time, it still recognises it. And the next. And the next.
    So I now do the complete opposite, I don’t avoid people with colds. Because you can’t. Someone somewhere will get you sometime. To me, avoiding people with colds is a short term strategy with poor long term outcome.
    This is just a theory. I have no evidence to back it up. It probably won’t be a good idea for some people. But it works for me. If nothing less, I no longer get upset about careless people, I welcome them instead. And as stress impacts on the immune system……… who knows?

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing Chris! Hope you stay strong and healthy! 🙂 Best, Kelly

  • tulugaq
    3 years ago

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I have had bad asthma all my life, and any upper respiratory illness lasts for weeks and has me incapacitated.

    Fortunately, I work from home and so limit my involvement with those who may be ill. Unfortunately, my husband refuses to get a flu shot. I have warned him that if he gets the flu, I am moving out until he’s well again. He doesn’t believe me (and so far we’ve been OK), but I am deadly serious.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Lynn, Sounds like you gave your husband fair warning! 🙂 Lucky for me, my husband takes his flu shot and other vaccines in order to protect me from illness. There are some live vaccines he still cannot get because it may risk exposing me, but I appreciate that he does what he can to help keep me healthy. Hope you have an illness free season! Best, Kelly

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