Back-to-basics tips for cold and flu season

Dr. Bill Sears, patriarch of the Sears family pediatric franchise, offers good old-fashioned, Mom-knows-best lessons about taking care of yourself.

Landon Hall

McClatchy Tribune Newspapers

January 20, 2010


As fears of the H1N1 flu virus morph into relief that the pandemic hasn't been worse, let's turn to the regular flu season on this wet, sniffly day.

When H1N1 was on the march, people who advocated boosting the body's immune system with natural foods and other remedies rightly took a back seat to health care experts promoting the H1N1 vaccine as the best method to stop the spread of the virus. Now that the World Health Organization's director-general has said the pandemic remains moderate and seems closer to the outbreaks of 1957 and 1968 than the 1918 epidemic, the back-to-basics of cold and flu prevention bear repeating.

Enter Dr. Bill Sears, the Dana Point, Calif., patriarch of the Sears family pediatric franchise, who's also the king of good old-fashioned, Mom-knows-best lessons about taking care of yourself. Sears, who along with his registered-nurse wife Martha and pediatrician sons Jim and Bob have written a string of anthologies for parents, has a new book out that compiles his tips for living well in middle age and beyond. It's called "Prime-Time Health: A Scientifically Proven Plan for Feeling Young and Living Longer" (Little, Brown and Company, $25.99)

Here are some of his observations from our talk last week:

Hot water is preferred for hand-washing, but not necessary. "Proper hand-washing is always the first line of defense, but there's more to it than that. One of the things we do in our practice is, families carry around anti-bacterial wipes, which kill 99.9 percent of the germs." (The CDC offers a primer on how to wash your hands.)

Sears' three S's - smoothies, salads and salmon - are good for boosting the body's natural immune system. "Blueberries are the No. 1 fruit for boosting the immune system. Pomegranates also are in season now. The neat thing is that coincides with the flu season."

Flu germs settle in the nose and sinuses first, so keep the nose clean with a saline rinse or spray. If you have central heating (which can dry out the sinuses), consider a humidifier.

Use your elbows and feet on germ gathering places of public bathrooms, like doorknobs and flush handles. "You go to other countries like Japan, and they're far ahead of us in preventing the spread of germs. A toilet-flusher should be a pedal you push with your feet, not your hands.

"In my book I make a big point of what I'm mentioning to you, which is that the body can muster up its own medicines, as long as we take care of it," he said. "You notice it doesn't cost very much to do these things. Somehow we've lost sight of the simple facts of medicine in this way.

"These are almost things like your mother told you."