Immunity, Viral Invasions, and Healthy Hygiene Practices
The immune system’s basic function is to defend the body against diseases and other harmful invaders, including bacteria and viruses. The human body’s ability to resist such invaders is called immunity.
During certain months of the year, one’s immunity can be more actively challenged by cold and flu viruses. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American adult contracts between two to four upper respiratory illnesses a year. Children, as any parent knows, are more susceptible since they’re cooped up with 20 or 30 classmates every day; they average between six to ten colds a year.
Overall, this means that over 1 billion colds occur in the United States each year, causing the most common reason for school and work absences. Approximately 20 percent of the U. S. population attends or works in schools, and nearly 22 million school days are lost annually due to the common cold alone. To add to the health threat, some viruses can live from 20 minutes up to 2 hours or more on surfaces like desks, cafeteria tables, doorknobs, computer keyboards, and the computer mouse—items used on a regular basis by school children and other working individuals.
The economic and societal impact of colds and flu is nothing to sneeze at. As the most frequent illness among Americans, these viral illnesses annually attack 500 million times and costs $40 billion in doctor’s bills, medication, and missed work and school days, a University of Michigan study reports. The so-called common cold is aptly named because in a given year, nearly half of the United States population will catch a cold and 40 percent will develop influenza.
Colds can occur at any time of the year, but occur more frequently during fall and winter months. Beginning in late August or early September, the incidence of colds increases and remains high until March or April. During cold weather months, people spend more time indoors, increasing chances of viruses spreading from person to person. In addition, the colder seasons bring about lower relative humidity—an environment in which the most common cold-causing viruses can better survive—and can lead to drying out the nasal passages, making them vulnerable to viral infection. A person can “catch” a cold or the flu by sitting close to someone with the virus who sneezes, or by touching the nose, eyes, or mouth after having touched something contaminated by the virus, including surfaces, phones, keyboards, and even money.
Additionally, tens of millions of people get the flu each year, with some cases resulting in hospitalization or death. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 10 to 20 percent of Americans come down with the flu during flu season, which typically lasts from November to March. The CDC also estimates that in the United States alone more than 100,000 people are hospitalized and about 36,000 people die every year from the flu and its resulting complications.
Children and the elderly are most susceptible to the damages from the flu—and so are the chronically ill, no matter what age. Children are two to three times more likely than adults to get sick with the flu and frequently spread the virus to others. Unfortunately for the elderly and the chronically sick, flu symptoms can turn into pneumonia with little warning. Those particularly at risk are those over the age of 65, nursing home residents, people with heart or lung problems, or anyone with a chronic disease like diabetes or kidney disease.
How do we protect ourselves from the ever-present threat of these invading pathogens? In addition to the common sense approach of a healthy diet, exercise, and an overall healthy lifestyle, it is important to implement regular hand washing practices, preferably with natural hygienic products.
The idea of “respiratory hygiene” became a campaign the health department in Raleigh, N. C. stressed to help combat their flu outbreak in 2003, encouraging people to wash their hands often and to cover their mouths with tissue when they cough or sneeze.
Consistent hand washing has healthful benefits for everyone, including our military recruits. An August 2001 study in The Journal of Preventive Medicine indicated that frequent hand washing resulted in 45 percent fewer bouts of respiratory illnesses such as colds, the flu, and pneumonia, as compared with the same individuals a year prior when hand washing was not actively encouraged. Respiratory illnesses are the most common cause of lost time from military duty (and the civilian workforce) among young service individuals.
The most effective means of spreading colds involves touching the fingertips to the eyes and nose. This causes “auto-inoculation” unwittingly puts into our bodies (through the eyes, nose, mouth, etc.) the cold and flu germs riding along on our hands, especially under the fingernails. In order to reduce susceptibility to infection and thereby increase chances for immunity during the cold and flu season, cleansing these areas using natural hygienic measures is essential because it helps to disarm the auto-inoculation process.
By integrating good hand-washing and other hygienic practices into your already established health regimen (a whole foods-based healthy diet, regular exercise, etc.), your chances will be greater for stronger immunity during the cold and flu season.