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Show 1369: What to Do If You Catch the Flu

In this interview, an expert in critical care and pulmonology offers evidence-based tips on how to recover more quickly if you catch the flu.
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What to Do If You Catch the Flu

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This week, we hear from pulmonologist Roger Seheult, MD, about ways we can strengthen our immune responses to respiratory infections. Seasonal influenza activity is high and still rising in most parts of the country. In addition, wastewater surveillance shows that COVID-19 cases are widespread and surging. Cold viruses are also circulating. Find out what strategies you can take to stay healthy and what to do if you catch the flu.

You may want to listen through your local public radio station or get the live stream at 7 am EDT on your computer or smart phone (wunc.org). Here is a link so you can find which stations carry our broadcast. If you can’t listen to the broadcast, you may wish to hear the podcast later. You can subscribe through your favorite podcast provider, download the mp3 using the link at the bottom of the page, or listen to the stream on this post starting on January 15, 2024.

What Causes Sore Throats and Sneezes?

Sometimes it can be challenging to tell whether a sore throat with a cough or a stuffy nose is the first sign of a cold, influenza or COVID-19. Perhaps that’s because these symptoms are not determined by any specific virus, but rather by our immune reaction to infection. When immune cells detect any of the hundreds of rhinoviruses, adenoviruses or coronaviruses that can cause colds, they tell the body to start pumping out interferon. This compound, one of the first lines of defense, keep viruses from replicating. They can also cause fever, chills, congestion, sore throats, headache and sometimes muscle aches.

Should You Treat Your Fever If You Catch the Flu?

While you can lower a fever with over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen, aspirin or an NSAID, you’d be handicapping your immune response. Fever is an important tool the body uses to fight off infection.

In fact, in past eras, before antibiotics, people used to heat up the body to help it overcome infections. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, the sanitariums that practiced hydrotherapy (hot baths or compresses) had a lower mortality rate than the Army hospitals using the newly introduced wonder drug, aspirin.

One old-timey therapy that would be worth a try if you catch the flu or a cold is steam inhalation. Get a pot of water boiling on the stove and direct the steam so you can breathe it in for several minutes. This approach does require care so that the patient does not get burned by the steam. Warm steam can ease congestion and make people feel better while discouraging viral replication in the nose and airways.

Sunshine and Vitamin D:

Another feature of sanitariums was an emphasis on fresh air and sunlight. Dr. Seheult points out that sunshine helps keep our immune response robust. (Of course, the dose is important; too much sun can impair the immune response.) When we expose our skin to sunlight, it makes vitamin D. This is crucial for the immune system. Maybe the popularity of sauna baths in Finland and many other northern countries is a way of compensating for the lack of sunshine during the winter. In addition, the old-fashioned practice of using cod liver oil as a winter-time tonic may be related to its vitamin D content.

What About Vitamin C or Zinc?

Dr. Seheult is not aware of scientific studies showing that vitamin C can help us fight off colds or flu, Linus Pauling notwithstanding. Zinc supplements, on the other hand, have been proven to help people recover more quickly. Taking more than 4 mg of elemental zinc daily could interfere with the balance of copper in the body. Actually figuring out how much elemental zinc is in the supplement could prove quite a challenge, though. Manufacturers don’t often supply that information on the label. Taking quercetin along with zinc may improve its efficacy.

Chronic Lung Conditions:

Since Dr. Seheult is a pulmonologist, we asked about chronic lung conditions that might make people more susceptible to infections. Both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can interfere with breathing, especially breathing out and making room for fresh air to enter the lungs. The medications used to treat these conditions, such as inhaled steroids, can also set the body up for fungal infections.

What to Do If You Catch the Flu:

Testing can be helpful to figure out if what you have is actually the flu or something else, like COVID or a cold. If it is the flu, there are antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir) that can help speed recovery if taken early in the infection. Maintaining good ventilation at home is crucial, especially if you don’t have a good way to quarantine yourself from the rest of the household. You can try hydrotherapy at home; one approach is to take a hot shower, finished with a blast of cold water at the end. While this may not sound pleasant, it really wakes the immune system up. Consider steam inhalation, and make sure you get adequate sleep and get out into the sunshine as much as possible

This Week’s Guest:

Dr. Seheult is an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine, and an Assistant Clinical Professor at the School of Medicine and Allied Health at Loma Linda University.

Dr. Seheult is quadruple board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Diseases, Critical Care Medicine, and Sleep Medicine through the American Board of Internal Medicine. HIs current practice is in Beaumont, California where he is a critical care physician, pulmonologist, and sleep physician at Optum California.

He lectures routinely across the country at conferences and for medical, PA, and RT societies, is the director of a sleep lab, and is the Medical Director for the Crafton Hills College Respiratory Care Program.

MedCram

In 2012 he and Kyle Allred founded MedCram L.L.C., a medical education company with CME-accredited videos that are utilized by hospitals, medical schools, and hundreds of thousands of medical professionals from all over the world (and over 1 million YouTube Subscribers). His passion is “demystifying” medical concepts and offering people the tools for staying healthy.

We have found Dr. Seheult’s MedCram videos amazing. He has done an extraordinary job explaining COVID and the science behind various treatments. But he also makes many other complex medical topics understandable. This is a skill that few of my professors in the University of Michigan’s Department of Pharmacology could claim.

Dr. Seheult was the recipient of the 2021 San Bernardino County Medical Society’s William L. Cover MD Award for Outstanding Contribution to Medicine and the 2022 UnitedHealth Group’s The Sages of Clinical Service Award. In 2022 both Roger Seheult and Kyle Allred received the HRH Prince Salmon bin Hamad Al Khalifa Medical Merit Medal from the Kingdom of Bahrain for their contribution to health policy in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Roger Seheult, MD, talks about staying healthy

Roger Seheult, MD, MedCram, Loma Linda, UC-Riverside

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, January 15, 2024, after broadcast on Jan. 13. You can stream the show from this site and download the podcast for free.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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