A Healthy Balance: Preventing the spread of disease

The news this week focusing on swine flu is quite concerning to many. In Mexico, people have died, there have been cases in the U.S. (although none in Washington, as of this writing).

It’s disturbing to think that whatever disease we “knock out," another one comes along. Aren’t there vaccines for this sort of thing? How can we prevent catching and spreading it? What do we do with any old cold or flu if we’ve got it? How can we best prepare our immune systems?

First off, there are simple ideas we learned back in grade school that are actually the front line of defense.

Cover your mouth when you sneeze (try sneezing into the crook of your elbow instead of your hand).

Wash your hands frequently. After going to the bathroom, before preparing food, before eating, before and after playing with children (EVERYTHING goes in their mouths at a young age).

Try this step- when washing your hands, scrub for the length of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” or the “ABCs." Remember to turn off the water while you lather to minimize waste. If you’re in a public restroom, use a paper towel to open the door- this prevents re-contamination.

If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re an employer, be kind to the employees staying home sick. They’re doing your company a favor by not spreading their illness around the workplace.

If you had plans to do something socially, your friends, the local theater employees, and other participants will be happy enough to see you next time.

Eat healthily, sleep plentifully, and find activities that you enjoy doing. All these simple, healthful activities will reduce the daily demands on your immune system, allowing it to function better when confronted with new bacteria, viruses, and other unwelcome visitors.

If you find it’s been going on for more than 24 hours, see your naturopath or family doctor.

Eating well to support your immune system means lots of antimicrobial foods, such as garlic, onions, ginger, rosemary, oregano and yogurt (for a healthy gut). Avoid highly processed foods and alcohol.

If you find yourself getting sniffles, remember that this is your own body’s way of responding to a foreign “invader." Fever is our bodies’ way of cooking the germs out and can be beneficial if your immune system is healthy. Mucus is how your body traps airborne illnesses, in an effort to both prevent them from invading more deeply and to stimulate your body to cough them up.

Diarrhea is also your body’s way of getting something out. The trick is to hydrate well and replace electrolytes during the first 24 hours, not to stop it up and keep your body from removing the bacteria and toxins from your system.

If you follow the tips outlined above, your immune system will be prepared to handle whatever comes its way.

Dr. Katie Baker is the owner of Stone Turtle Health, a naturopathic family clinic here in Ballard on 8th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 62nd Street (www.stoneturtlehealth.com). She can be reached at info@stoneturtlehealth.com.

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