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Evaluation of 5 Prevention Methods

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    Posted: March 21 2018 at 3:08am

We Asked Infectious Disease Experts to Rank 5 Flu-Prevention Products

Just tell us if we should wear a face mask or not.

carroteater/Getty Images

If you’ve ever had the flu, you know it can take you out like a wrecking ball, Miley Cyrus–style. So we can’t blame anyone for wanting to buy out the entire cold and flu aisle at the drugstore—including absolutely anything that claims to boost your immune system or protect you from the flu. any of them really work?

“The problem with most of these products is that there is little scientific evidence to support or refute their claims, so it basically comes down to [people's opinions],” Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, tells SELF.

So we consulted Dr. Watkins and other infectious disease experts to get their take on which products are helpful, which ones might work, and which ones have little to no science proving that they’ll help you avoid the flu. Read this before you put all your faith in them.

1. Helpful: the flu vaccine

OK, so this isn’t the same kind of product as the others on this list, but it always bears repeating: Getting the flu vaccine is your best bet for avoiding the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The flu vaccine uses inactive flu viruses (or, doesn’t use flu viruses at all) to make your body create antibodies against influenza, the CDC says. Even in flu seasons in which the vaccine isn’t as efficient as possible (like the current one, when it’s 36 percent effective), you should still get your flu shot. Yes, even if you’re pregnant. And no, getting the flu shot won’t give you the flu; inactive flu viruses can’t infect you. Cool? Cool.

2. Helpful: hand sanitizers

Along with getting a flu shot, hand hygiene is incredibly important. The flu spreads through little airborne droplets people produce when they talk, cough, or sneeze, according to the CDC. You can either inhale those droplets, or they can land on surfaces on which you can touch them and put them in your mouth or nose. If you regularly clean your hands, it lowers the risk that those germs will actually make it inside your body and give you the flu.
While washing your hands with soap and water is ideal, using your garden-variety hand sanitizer can also be helpful if you’re not near a bathroom, Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the John's Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. The CDC recommends using a version with at least 60 percent alcohol, since that's the most effective at killing germs.

3. May be helpful: wearing a face mask or shield

The CDC says it’s a good idea for medical practitioners to wear either a face mask along with eye protection or a face shield when dealing with flu patients. (This is why doctors and nurses often use them.) But there are also face masks and shields for other people who are looking for protection.

There are a bunch of options, like Breathe Healthy’s reusable face mask and Uline’s surgical face masks. Medicus Health offers a slight variation on this with their disposable face shields, which basically put a huge piece of clear plastic in front of your whole face. Very zombie-apocalypse chic.

“Much like hand washing and proper sneeze etiquette, wearing our masks...can help to prevent transmission of the flu virus,” Mike Vahey, a spokesperson for Breathe Healthy, tells SELF. Vahey says that these kinds of masks can protect the person wearing them by filtering out germs that could cause the flu, and they may also protect others by containing the flu virus. (Uline and Medicus Health did not return SELF’s request for comment.)

According to the experts we spoke with, wearing a face mask or shield can actually be a great idea for specific people in specific situations—such as if you are caring for someone with the flu. “It could potentially help keep you healthy,” William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells SELF. It could also help protect them (or other immunocompromised people, like those having chemotherapy) from your own germs, Dr. Adalja says.

But for otherwise everyday use, it’s probably not worth the effort. These products only work well if you use them properly, Dr. Adalja says, and that actually amounts to a fair bit of work. You’d basically need to wear one all the time while in public or exposed to other people. You’d also need to wash your hands well before putting the mask or shield on and after taking it off, Dr. Schaffner says. (And remember, removing the mask or shield around other people makes it less effective.)

If you were to opt for a reusable mask, you’d need to wash it after every wear, Dr. Adalja says. Unless you’re the rare laundry fanatic, that doesn’t sound doable. Also, washing the mask that frequently could lead to wear and tear, making it less likely to fit the way it should. Ultimately, this could expose you to the very germs you’re trying to avoid, Dr. Schaffner says.

4. Probably not helpful: vitamin C–based immune support supplements

Most people consider vitamin C the gold standard for preventing pretty much every illness, including the flu. That’s why products packed with vitamin C, like Airborne, Emergen-C, and SufficientC have become so popular.

It’s worth noting that each of these products have disclaimers on their websites saying they’re actually not intended to prevent disease. That’s a good thing, because evidence to support their flu-fighting properties doesn’t really exist.

A 2013 review of scientific literature published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews looked at 29 clinical trials on colds and vitamin C usage involving 11,306 people. The researchers found that although taking vitamin C won’t prevent people from getting a cold, there’s a chance it could improve some people’s cold symptoms. But that’s for the cold, not the flu, and they’re caused by two different types of viruses.

Most colds are transmited by a type of rhinovirus, according to the Mayo Clinic. Influenza viruses, which cause the flu, are completely different, and unfortunately there’s zero data that says vitamin C can prevent them from infecting you.

Proponents say vitamin C might help you battle oxidative stress, a process triggered by infections and which can lead to cell damage. “All infections produce increased oxidative stress and rapidly deplete the body of vitamin C. This is why taking higher doses of vitamin C, like those found in Sufficient-C, can restore what is lost,” Caralyn Vessal, founder and creator of Sufficient-C, tells SELF. To be clear, Vessal isn’t saying that her product can prevent colds or the flu, just that there could be some benefit to having more vitamin C when your body is fighting off an infection. (Airborne and Emergen-C did not return SELF’s request for comment.)

Oxidative stress does take place during an infection as your body’s immune system tries to keep you healthy, Dr. Adalja explains. Certain molecules in your body try to “mop up” oxidative stress, and vitamin C is one of them, he says. However, when you’re talking about a relatively mild illness like the common cold or a typical case of the flu, your body can rebound with no problem—and no extra supplementation, Dr. Adalja says.

Also, while it may sound impressive that these kinds of products provide upwards of 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C, adults only need around 75 to 90 milligrams of the stuff per day, according to the National Institutes of Health. You usually just pee out what you don’t need, Dr. Schaffner says, so taking a ton likely won’t help your cause.

While vitamin C is the major ingredient in these kinds of supplements, they usually contain others purported to help boost your immunity too. Vessal says additional ingredients in her product, like the amino acid L-lysine (which she calls a “virus annihilator”), bromelain (a mix of pineapple plant enzymes that may help with inflammation), and green tea extract (an antioxidant), also can help.

There isn’t much valid scientific evidence to support L-lysine and bromelain’s flu-busting abilities, Dr. Adalja says. And research to support green tea’s benefits for flu prevention has been mixed. One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 200 healthcare workers published in BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine found that people who took green tea catechins (the major components of green tea extract) and theanine (an amino acid in green tea) were less likely to get the flu than those who took the placebo. Specifically, four people who took the green tea pills got the flu, compared to 13 people in the placebo group. However, this was a pretty small study.

Another study published in the journal PLOS One looked at 757 high school students who gargled green tea three times a day, finding that the practice was no more effective at preventing the flu than people who did the same thing with water.

Overall, Dr. Adalja says that you’re not likely to see a huge flu-prevention benefit from drinking green tea—or taking these kinds of supplements in general—but that it also won’t hurt you, either.

5. Probably not helpful: Reusable airplane seat covers

Flying in an airplane basically means you’re marinating in a tin can full of other people’s germs. If one of those passengers has the flu, it increases the odds that you could breathe in illness-causing droplets, Dr. Schaffner explains. There’s also a chance that flu germs could get on commonly used surfaces.

Enter Seat Sitters reusable airplane seat covers. These covers go over your plane seat to protect you from “one of the dirtiest surfaces in air travel—the chair upholstery,” according to the product’s website. A press release from the company also promises that the covers, which each come with a tray table cover, two sanitizing wipes, and a face mask, will help you “fly flu free!”

“The logic eludes me,” Dr. Schaffner says. “These are respiratory infections. What’s a seat cover going to do? The virus doesn’t hang out in the fabric waiting to bite you in the fanny.”

It makes sense that if there are flu germs on the seat, putting a barrier between it and you could stop you from touching them and then bringing them to your face. But this is like putting a tiny bandage on an airplane-sized injury. “It’s probably a little overkill,” Dr. Adalja says. “When you’re on an airplane, you’re going to be touching more things like bathroom door handles that make you more likely to get the flu.” You’ll also probably be touching the armrests a lot, and these seat covers don’t hide those—though covering the germy tray table can be a good idea.

Still, your biggest risk of contracting the flu on a plane is from someone who is seated near you and is coughing, sneezing, or otherwise ejecting influenza-filled droplets on or near you, Dr. Schaffner says. Unfortunately, this seat cover isn’t going to help in those situations. (Seat Sitters did not return SELF’s request for comment.)

Of course, the product couldn’t hurt if it’s something that appeals to you—though you’ll probably have to deal with fellow passengers’ questions about what on earth you’re doing with that seat cover. But if you’re really trying to avoid picking up germs on a plane, you’re probably better off bringing some sanitizing wipes to clean the armrest, tray table, and seat back in front of you. Some hand sanitizer you can use after touching bathroom door handles wouldn’t hurt, either.

Source and several links:   https:///

Technophobe comment:  Not all hand sanitisers are created equal, read the label and not all suppliaments are made the same either, vitamin D is the best immune booster, A, C nd Zinc help too  The whole lot work synergestically.
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