How Long Are You Contagious With The Flu?

It happens to the best of us. You wake up one day and you are completely man-down with a stuffy nose, fever and body aches. And now you need to message your manager and tell them that you’re the office’s patient-zero and face the guilt-trip from your colleagues.

Adults are contagious before they even realize they’re sick. The virus can spread from up to 24 hours before you start showing any symptoms (sneaky bugs!) and can spread for a further week after you are really in the thick of being sick.

This contagious period can last even longer for kids or people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly. That being said, you’re most contagious with the flu during the first three to four days after you begin feeling sick.

Is There A Way To Tell If You’re Contagious?

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The best way to judge if you’re still contagious is timing. Because symptoms of the flu typically begin about two days after the virus enters the body (but could appear anytime between 1 and 4 days after infection begins), you should be particularly careful during your first week of symptoms. Meaning, stay home from work or school, if possible, and be careful to avoid direct contact with other people. Drink lot’s of water & make an appointment to see your practitioner if you’re worried about your symptoms and would like help to ease them and recover quicker.

I’ve also written a post with my favourite herbs to treat colds & flu, which you can read here.

Colds & Flu’s: Whats The Difference?

Yes, they are two completely different things! Both are caused by viruses and have similar symptoms which is why many people mistake them for the same thing, but once you see the differences side-by-side it’s easy to never see them the same again.

In general, flu can be much worse than the common cold, and symptoms come across more intense whereas colds are usually milder and don’t result in serious health problems if left untreated like pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalisations.

Image Cred: http://www.cdc.gov

As Far As Treatment is Concerned…

In all honesty, chances are high that you’ll receive a prescription for antibiotics from your GP. However, antibiotics don’t do anything when it comes to viruses. They’re only effective for treating infections caused by bacteria. With that said though – if you leave a flu untreated, you can develop a co-infection that could be bacterial and thereby, need antibiotics (but you won’t need antibiotics immediately). 

I must say, many GP’s I know and have worked with delay prescribing antibiotics and don’t go to it immediately which is a BIG step in the right direction. 

Phytotherapeutic Approach To Treatment

Treating any kind of problems affecting the respiratory system is  my absolute favourite. Patients can see a difference in their symptoms so quickly which is really satisfying from a “customer satisfaction” point of view. The lungs are such a life-force to the human body. Think about taking a breath of fresh air – how rejuvenating it can feel & how restrictive it feels when you’re in the full swing of a flu and can barely breath through the mucous build-up & constant coughing. 

A phytotherapeutic approach will always be individualised & based on fighting the virus first (the cause) and at the same time, helping to alleviate the symptoms which can make the patient a lot happier. So these would include herbs that support the immune system; have antiviral properties; decongestant properties or demulcent, soothing properties if there is a dry cough involved. 

I don’t think I have ever used the exact same prescription for two different patients. I certainly have my go-to herbs like echinacea or olive leave, but I’ll use them in different strengths or ratio’s to fit the individual. 

My Top 5 Go-To Herbs For Colds & Flu

Treating any kind of problems affecting the respiratory system is  my absolute favourite thing to do. Patients can see a difference in their symptoms so quickly which is really satisfying from a “customer satisfaction” point of view. The lungs are such a life-force to the human body. Think about taking a breath of fresh air – how rejuvenating it can feel & how restrictive it feels when you’re in the full swing of a flu and can barely breath through the mucous build-up & constant coughing.

While my treatments are always individualised, I do have my go-to ‘top performers’ when it comes to the respiratory system. You can read more on the differences between colds & flu here

Olive Leaf

For some unknown reason, I never used this herb at university, but seem to be including it in every prescription in practice. 

It contains oleuropein which is readily absorbed by the body & is well known for it’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and especially it’s anti-viral properties. This makes it exceptionally good at fighting off the flu. There have even been theoretical investigations into using olive leaf extract in fighting HIV

Echinacea

Echinacea has got to be one of the biggest celebrities in immunity world. Numerous studies showcase it’s effectiveness in specifically modulating the immune system and fighting off colds & flu’s. In the US, echinacea extract sales total more than $100 million annually. Now, I’m not one for touting big pharma, but people don’t carry on buying something that doesn’t work. 

Ethanolic extracts (tinctures) contain multiple constituents that can suppress the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and upregulate phagocytic activity.

Simply put, Echinacea supports the immune system by stopping inflammation and actively killing off harmful pathogens. 

Pelargonium 

A South African BEAUTY! I love this plant so much – it tastes great in remedies and is super effective, especially in children. Have been thinking of experimenting with making medicinal lozenges with pelargonium as the base. Would you be keen on getting a recipe?

Studies have shown it’s specific effective use in bronchitis and sinusitis

Mint

Congested nose? Just sniffing this potent plant is a god-send. This herb is almost always the base of my medicinal tea preparations. The essential oils that are given off when brewed, not only break down mucous but have amazing antimicrobial properties. 

Sage

Sage can sometimes be a tricky herb when it comes to colds and flu’s. It can be incredibly ‘drying’ so I wouldn’t use it for a harsh cough – only for productive, mucous-filled coughs that need drying up. 

Medications can also interact with Sage. Especially diabetic medications, which I see all-too-often in practice. Which is why I won’t often use Sage in a prescription, but when I do, I’m very happy with the results. 

Do you have any herbs that you run to when you feel a cold/flu coming on? Drop a comment below & I’ll let you know the science behind why it can be so effective.

Is it a Food Allergy or Intolerance?

Seems like lately, every patient walking through my doors complains that they’re allergic to something. Anything from the typical dairy, dog hair and gluten to Handy Andy and chamomile tea. One patient complains of a stomach ache if they eat bread; another’s has a life-threatening reaction to nuts. Both call it an allergy. Unfortunately the term “allergy” has become a generic term used to describe allergies and intolerances, but there is a clear clinical difference between them – that being your bodies immune response.

And with the media trying  to use every buzz word possible to hook you into buying R50 loaves of bread because of your ‘allergy’,  it’s important to know the differences between an allergy or intolerance.

Allergy

When you have a food allergy, your immune system will illicit a response by releasing antibodies to ‘fight off’ the allergen. Symptoms will show fairly quickly after eating & could include difficulty breathing, wheezing; skin reactions like hives & swelling; dizziness; swelling of the tongue, mouth or face.

The most common foods that cause allergic reactions are:

  • Peanuts & tree nuts
  • Shellfish
  • Cow’s milk
  • Wheat

Allergies can be life-threatening and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Your doctor will be able to specifically test for allergies with a skin-prick test.

Intolerance

Food intolerances occur when your body doesn’t have the right enzymes to properly break down the food in your gut. There is NO immune response but your body will show uncomfortable gut symptoms. The most common words I hear are “It just doesn’t agree with me”.

A really good example of this is lactose (from milk). People who are lactose intolerant, don’t have the enzymes to break down lactose properly so when it is ingested and reaches the large intestine, the bacteria break it down releasing gas, bloating, pain and diarrhoea. The symptoms take longer to show & other symptoms could be headaches, nausea, nervousness, heartburn and vomiting.

Foods that can cause intolerances can vary greatly but commonly include:

  • Wheat
  • Caffeine
  • Dairy
  • Food additives & artificial flavourants (like MSG)

Elimination diets under the guidance of a practitioner are the most useful in isolating the culprit foods.

In Closing

Food allergies and intolerances actually fairly uncommon and your symptoms could be caused by a number of other factors such as stress, hormonal changes or a different digestive disease. They can also be quite difficult to tell apart because of how symptoms overlap so greatly. If you suspect that you may have an allergy or an intolerance, I urge you to see a registered health practitioner so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated under their supervision.

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A side note on gluten

Gluten seems to be a favourite word with the media at the moment. It’s found in most grains like wheat, rye and barley & can be the cause of both an intolerance or an allergy, depending on the structure of the gut & microbiome. 

Many people have an intolerance to gluten and will have quite a bit of discomfort when they eat foods that contain it. But gluten intolerance isn’t very common and not everybody needs to be eliminating gluten from their diet like we’re told in the media. 

Now, for some individuals, it is critical that they avoid gluten. These individuals have an autoimmune disease called Coeliac’s. The body has a completely abnormal immune response to gluten that causes damage to the villi in the small intestine (the finger-like structures in our gut that help with absorption of nutrients). It’s not entirely clear what causes the immune system to act in this way, but a combination of genetics and the environment appear to play a part. This damage creates gaps between the villi which means toxins are able to enter the blood stream and can be fatal if left untreated. 

So my ‘side note’ about gluten is clearly becoming its own blog post & I promise to write a more in-depth post in the near future on this. 

No, I probably won’t prescribe you Cannabis (even if it was legal)

With all the hype around Cannabis at the moment, I often get asked if I can get it for my patients (often in the hopes that I will then become the asker’s new ‘dealer’).

But the truth is, even if I could get you cannabis, I probably won’t. While it really is a fantastic plant with incredible healing properties, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of healing botanicals. And it most definitely will not be right for every individual who walks through my practice doors.

You see, the main thing about Cannabis is that it contains phytochemicals called cannabinoids which activate the endocannabinoid system (very fancy words for plant chemicals which ‘turn on’ the signals for certain functions in your body to happen, like sleeping, immune function and digestion).

Cannabis is NOT the only herb that activates this system and many patient’s don’t need this system to be looked into or treated.

Before treating with ANY herb, diet and lifestyle will be looked at and adjusted which might regulate the system in and of itself without the need for herbal interventions. And even if you get to the point of needing herbal intervention, there are many herbs which can influence the endocannabinoid system including Rosemary, Helichrysum (Imphempho), Maca and Echinacea – all which are widely available to practitioners and all very effective in their own ways.

So at the end of the day, even if I could get you cannabis, I probably won’t. I might get you cannabis if you need it, if you require a herbal intervention that has the exact effects of cannabis. But will I recommend it for everyone? No.

The basis of Phytotherapy is patient-centred, individual therapy. Each patient is different and will be treated differently. Rosemary might work for one patient but not for another even if they have the same health problems. In the same way, cannabis could work for some but not others.

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DISCLAIMER: HERBS ARE NOT ALWAYS SAFE TO BE TAKEN WITHOUT THE SUPERVISION AND GUIDANCE FROM A QUALIFIED (AND REGISTERED) HERBAL PRACTITIONER. IF YOU’D LIKE TO ENJOY A HOLISTIC, PATIENT-CENTRED APPROACH TO YOUR HEALTH NEEDS, DON’T HESITATE TO CONTACT ME TO BOOK YOUR APPOINTMENT.