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On a more serious note than usual, the most common question I’ve asked myself when reading the headlines these past few days is what is swine flu and should I be worried? In order to inform our readers, I’ve checked out the Center for Disease Control website (so you don’t have to), to give you the rundown.

in Chinatown today; Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

in Chinatown today; Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Basically, swine flu is a strain of influenza in pigs – Type A (H1N1) –  that affects the respiratory system. Until this outbreak, it has only been found in a couple cases in humans. Now, the Mexican government reports that around 150 people have died in cases appearing to be linked to swine flu, and according to the New York Times today, around 2000 Mexicans have been infected. In the United States, as of yesterday, there are 66 confirmed cases of swine flu, 45 of which are in New York City. Teacher’s College confirmed yesterday that one of its students has been diagnosed with Type A influenza, although it is still unknown if it is this particular strand or not. Swine flu can be spread from person to person through the air and through physical contact. The virus can live two hours or longer on surfaces like counters or keyboards so it is important not to touch anything that may be contaminated and to wash your hands regularly (especially after riding the subway). Take care not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, and try to avoid people exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

 

Most people with swine flu are contagious from around one day before they begin exhibiting symptoms to up to seven days after. If you are feeling any flu-like symptoms: cough, fever, sore throat, chills, fatigue, head ache. If you exhibit any of these symptoms and are feeling worried about it, go to Health Services and ask to be tested. The lab will have to be sent to the Center for Disease Control for confirmation, so during that time, take care of yourself and warn other people. There are simple and effective antiviral pills/liquids that you can take that act as treatment. Most importantly, it is important not to feel like you’re overreacting – if you’re nervous, get a check- up both to protect yourself and others. Swine flu varies in terms of severity. If you take heed of your symptoms and get vaccinated within the first two days, the vaccine is most effective. Most of the deaths in Mexico result from people not being able to afford treatment for their flu and it thus worsens. 

 

One last thing: you can’t catch swine flu from pork products! 

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Like an idiot, I didn’t get my flu shot this year.  For the past week,  I have been fighting the flu.  For a week!  This was no cold or measly winter bug.  This was Influenza.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Big, bad Influenza with a capital I.  The Influenza that lasts two weeks, including body aches, sore throat, fever, chills, nausea, and congestion, completely sapping your body of all strength and good will.  Catching this bug put a major dent in my marathon-training schedule, not only preventing me from running but actually undoing a lot of the work I had put into building up my quadriceps and glutes.  I share this as a warning.  Wash those hands!

While endurance-running and staying in shape boosts your immune system and helps fight off those little colds, hard training and partaking in long runs can stress your body, putting you at higher risks for serious illnesses, such the flu.  Running with a head cold won’t hurt you.  But if you have a chest cold, body aches, or fever, rest until the day after your  symptoms fade.  To avoid a relapse, go easy for one to two weeks before resuming normal intensity and mileage.  Training with anything worse than a minor cold could affect your respiratory tract.

Here are five tips about exercising and staying healthy.

1) Get plenty of sleep

When you sleep, your immune system attacks foreign bodies and heals itself.  According to one study, the body attacks 50% more “bad cells” after sleeping eight hours than after sleeping six.

2) Shorter cardio

30-75 minutes of moderate activity can boost your ability to fight illness, while long stretches of strenuous activity do the opposite.

3) Drink your fluids

Consuming carb-rich drinks before, during, and after exercising for more than 90 minutes can restrain immune-inhibiting stress hormones.

4) Allow yourself to recover

Pushing your body through papers, reading, exams, work, and exercise without enough rest can weaken your immune response and cause frequent colds.  Mood is an early indicator of overwork and exhaustion, so take a rest day if you feel cranky.

5) Stay local

If you’re really worried about getting sick, consider vacationing locally.  Long trips can subject you to immune-system to enemies like stress, poor sleep, and increased germ exposure.

If you think you may have the flu, go to the clinic for a diagnosis as soon as possible.  Most people with the flu are achy and tired, and bed rest is the only real cure.  Stay warm.  Put new sheets on the bed, replace your toothbrush, and disinfect your bedroom as often as possible.  Drink plenty of fluids.  Eat a bland diet (the best is the BRAT diet — bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast).  Avoid dairy (it encourages mucus production). Take immune-boosters, such as echinacea and Vitamin C.  Have a loved one rub your feet to encourage circulation (and prove their immense love for you).  Flu symptoms can last up to two weeks, so allow yourself plenty of time to feel like yourself again.

Eww.

Eww.

Fun with Numbers: 72

The length (in hours) of the window of impaired immunity following workouts 90 minutes or longer.  Since your body is more vulnerable to viruses during this period, wash your hands diligently, get lots of sleep, and try to keep your distance from anyone holding a Kleenex.


Have a great week, and stay healthy!

Sources: Runner’s World, March 2009, http://www.holisticonline.com/remedies/Flu/Flu_common-sense-rec-for-flu.htm

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