Each year, as many as one in five adults in the United States come down with the flu. More than 200,000 of those people are hospitalized due to complications. You have an even greater risk of contracting the flu if you live in an area that has elevated levels of air pollution. Also, if you live in one of these polluted areas, your flu symptoms are more likely to be severe.
Here is some vital information about the link between air quality and influenza.
Breathing Polluted Air Increases Your Risk of Contracting the Flu
Research has repeatedly confirmed that breathing air with elevated levels of pollutants significantly increases your chance of getting sick with the flu. PM10 particulates, diesel exhaust, nitric oxides, sulfur dioxide and ozone are some of the specific pollutants associated with local increases in influenza cases.
Some researchers speculate that the increased risk is due to the influenza virus attaching to airborne pollution particulates. By hitching a ride on these pollution particulates, the influenza virus can travel much greater distances than they can with the average sneeze.
PM10 and other Pollutants.
Researchers in Hong Kong found that the rate of influenza-related hospital admissions increased when airborne levels of PM10 (particulate matter), ozone, and nitrogen oxide increased. The increased risk was highest for senior citizens over 65.
Scientists in the United States studied the effects of breathing diesel fumes on flu immunity. After two hours of exposure to diesel fumes, each member of the test group was given a live flu vaccine. The viral RNA levels were significantly higher in the test group than in the control group that was not exposed to diesel fumes.
Air Pollution Can Make Your Flu Symptoms Worse
As pollution particles rub against the bronchial tubes, they create irritation and inflammation that adds to the irritation caused by the flu virus. This makes the symptoms of the flu feel worse in high-pollution areas. Since pollution levels often peak during flu season, this can be especially troubling.
Also, Human cells release cytokines in response to exposure to both pollutants and the influenza virus. These chemical messengers are released by the body’s immune system and cause inflammation and mucus secretion. Since the release of cytokines is caused by both the flu and pollution, it’s like giving your body a double whammy.
Steps You Can Take
Influenza is a contagious disease. For some, it can have grave consequences, including hospitalization and, in extreme cases, even death. Everyone can help halt the spread of this troublesome disease by taking three simple actions.
- Get Vaccinated. The flu vaccine is a crucial step in protecting yourself and others from coming down with the flu. A Yearly flu vaccine is recommended, especially for seniors and those working in the medical field.
- Prevent the Spread of Germs. Simple steps such as covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and washing your hands frequently go a long way in preventing the spread of germs including the flu virus. Also, using a high-performance air purifier, such as the Austin Air HealthMate Plus, helps remove airborne viruses from the indoor air we breathe.
- Boost Your Immune System. You can give your immune system a natural boost during flu season to help it fight off the flu. Zinc and other vitamins and minerals help keep your immune system in top condition. You may want to consider nutritional supplements or a good multivitamin, especially during the flu season. Herbal supplements like Echinacea and probiotics may also help strengthen your immune system and reduce your chances of getting sick.
Information is power. The more you know about the flu and how it spreads the better your odds of avoiding it or spreading it to others. Visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website for more information on the flu and what to do if you or a loved one get sick this flu season. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/whattodo.htm
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