Beating back the unstoppable flu

Sanchita Sharma

New Delhi, Aug. 3 -- Like death, taxes and shrill TV anchors, flu viruses appear to be unstoppable this season. These viruses, as we all know, are evil beyond belief and strike people only on weekends, holidays or on weekdays when it's impossible to stay home.

This partly explains why everyone around is sniffing, coughing and complaining of pain in unmentionable parts of their anatomy.

People with flu should stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicines, recommends the World Health Organisation, but infected people - which appears to be every third person around - don't seem to have the brains or the option to stay in bed and sleep out the symptoms.

So we all have friends, classmates, colleagues and strangers sneezing in our face or unwittingly touching tables, doorknobs and keyboards with snot-laced hands that infect and sicken.

Almost everything we touch is a flu-trap. Flu viruses are super infectious and can survive on surfaces between two and eight hours, and bacteria for up to 24 hours.

If you touch an infected phone or keyboard, 30% of the germs on it end up on your fingertips, from where they go into your eyes, mouth or nose to cause all sorts of infections, reported a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

The same goes for tabletops and books that have been touched by an infected person or persons who sneezed or coughed and forgot to clean their hands. The result is almost always you collapsing with fever just before a vacation or a deadline that could make or break your career.

Humidity - like bacteria, viruses need at least 10% humidity to survive - and warmth provide ideal conditions for them to grow and multiply.

Add to things they can feed on - skin cells, blood or mucus, helps germs thrive, which is why the wet kitchen sponge is a favourite haunt, as are electronic devices such as cellphones, keyboards and hair- and hand-dryers because of the heat they generate. Experts recommend cleaning hard surfaces with antibacterial wipes at least a couple of times a week, including your cellphone.

Gyms are the other hotbeds for infection because of shared equipment and showers, coupled with the temporarily lowered resistance of the people working out.

All gyms provide towels to wipe down equipments after use, but in this weather, it may be smart idea to wipe them before use too. Keep two hand-towels for your workout, one for your body and one to wipe the machines. Carry your own yoga mat for floor exercises as sharing one with someone's sweat and germs is a very bad idea.

Taking along your own water/hydration bottle makes sense as it helps you avoid the water fountain, which is again a place where germs and viruses thrive.

Infection also thrives in shared swimming pools, including the ones with hi-tech filteration systems that appear clean and chlorinated. It is amazing how even people who only eat salad washed in mineral water and use filtered water to brush their teeth forget all about germ-infestation when it comes to swimming pools.

The pre-swim shower - so essential to wash away sweat (which, like urea, contains ammonia and ureum), cosmetics, dirt and pollutants - is often ignored by swimmers, which results in all the muck from skin surfaces - food for viruses and bacteria - ending up in pools.

Since too much disinfectant and chlorine also causes eye irritation, eczema and rashes, swim only in pools where the water is clear enough for you to see your toes while standing in the water.

For once you've got it, there's little you can do to treat a flu except pop medicines to bring down fever. Cough and cold medicines containing decongestants, antihistamines (anti-allergy medicines) and antitussives (cough suppressants) by themselves or in combination were ineffective.

Have warm liquids instead. Viruses are best battled from the comfort of your bed, so do yourself and everyone a favour and stay home.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.