How Not to Get Sick

As the coldest, wettest, iciest, windiest part of the winter season blows in with a bone-chilling howl, I want to talk to you about how to maintain overall wellness while living with rheumatoid disease (arthritis).

If you’re like me, most of this basic info goes in one ear and out the other while you cope with daily RD symptoms. Pain, stiffness, fatigue, and the general malaise that characterize this disease have a way of pushing most other basic health concerns far into the background. So, please hang in here with me as I cover the basics of How Not to Get Sick.

The Flu

Many of the medications we take to treat RD can weaken the immune system. That makes it much easier for infections—such as a virulent flu virus–to take hold. So, if you haven’t already gotten this season’s flu vaccine jab, don’t waste a moment more. It’s safe, quick, and painless, and it won’t give you the flu.*

Get it ASAP—it’s not too late. The flu vaccine is available through your doctor, county health clinics, and at most drugstore chains. (If you’ve already gotten vaccinated, bravo! But read on, anyway!)

Here’s why to vaccinate: The flu virus is at its most virulent in January and February—and by the end of December 2017, it was already proving itself fierce this season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that the virus was widespread in 36 states around the U.S., and there had been several deaths associated with it.

While the flu vaccine isn’t perfect—it can’t protect against each of the many influenza strains circulating during the flu season (generally November through February, but sometimes into the spring)—it can and does protect many, many Americans each year. The most vulnerable people are young children, people over age 65, and people with chronic illnesses/compromised immune systems. There are special flu formulations for older people, children, and those with egg allergies.

Flu symptoms

The flu generally affects the upper respiratory system, causing congestion, a sore throat, and a cough. The immune system reacts to the virus, causing inflammation that in turn causes fever and muscles aches. The flu becomes dangerous if it worsens and turns into pneumonia, a potentially deadly lung infection. The very young, the elderly, and the chronically ill are at the highest risk.

Halt the Spread

Along with getting vaccinated, there are some other things you can do to help prevent the spread of flu:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.
  • Stay away from people who have the flu.
  • If you catch the flu, stay home to avoid infecting others until you’re feeling better, usually in a few days to two weeks.
  • The flu spreads through droplets from sneezing and coughing. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow—not your hands—as you can leave the flu virus on any surface you touch.
  • If you think you might have the flu, see your doctor. If taken during the first 48 hours after infection, anti-viral medications may work to lessen the flu’s severity or shorten its duration.

Finally, keep in mind these preventive measures (except vaccination) work just as well against catching or spreading the common cold, too. Here’s wishing you well this winter!

*The virus(es) in the vaccine are dead, so they can’t infect you, only stimulate your immune system to form antibodies against them. That usually takes about two weeks, and then the antibodies continue to circulate in your body for several months. If you feel ill after getting the flu vaccine, you might already have a strain of the flu or some other viral infection. Note: The injection site and/or the muscle surrounding it might be mildly sore for a day or two following the flu vaccination.

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.

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