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Say no to germs

How to avoid colds and flu.

The human body is equipped with its own internal defense mechanism. When it’s working properly, it’s your immune system that protects you from bacteria and viruses that can lead to illness. But, sometimes, it needs a boost.

There’s no single solution to keep your immune system working at top speed. Instead, you can rely on some tried and true strategies:

  • Get the sleep your body requires. In a recent study published in the journal Sleep, people who slept less than six hours per night were significantly more likely to develop a cold than those who slept for more than seven hours.  
  • Eat a healthy diet. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, people whose diets are low in iron; selenium; vitamins A, C and D; and several of the B vitamins may have fewer white blood cells, which are the immune system’s first line of defense against disease. Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and healthy oils.
  • Consume alcohol only in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol slows down the immune system. Research reveals that women who consume four drinks within two hours or men who consume five, had fewer disease-fighting cells. Some research shows that a modest amount of alcohol (one drink per day for women and two for men) may actually help improve immune system function.
  • Get enough vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in the immune system. Yet, many adults don’t get enough. The recommended dose per day is 800 international units (IU). If you don’t get enough vitamin D in your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a daily supplement. As with any supplement, more is not necessarily better.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise three to five days per week. More isn’t necessarily better. In fact, intense exercise may suppress immunity.

Stop germs in their tracks

Your hands come into contact with millions of germs on a daily basis. They lurk everywhere, but particularly on heavily used items, such as remote controls, computers, phones, door handles, light switches, keys and wallets. Keep germs at bay with these strategies:

  • Wash your hands correctly. Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important and easiest ways to avoid getting sick and spreading germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Scrub the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails. Rinse well.
  • If water isn’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol (ethanol and isopropanol) — that’s the level at which it’s effective against germs. Whenever you see a hand sanitizer, get in the habit of using it — at the grocery store, the gym, at school or at work.
  • Stop touching your face. Most of us touch our eyes, nose and mouth about 16 times over the course of three hours, say researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. It’s a habit that’s hard to break, but it could keep you from catching a virus, such as the flu.
  • Get your shots. Vaccines prompt your immune system to produce antibodies that protect you from disease. So, be sure to get your flu shot. If you’re age 60 or older, get the one-time shingles vaccine.

The latest on antibiotic resistance

Researchers are learning that antibiotics, while an effective treatment for infections, can alter the microbiome and put pressure on the development of antibiotic resistance. The microbiome (microbes that naturally occur in and on humans) are thought to be intimately involved in health and well-being. Researchers have connected the altered microbiome to conditions like obesity, asthma, and diabetes.

1 in 3

That’s the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed in outpatient settings. If you do have a virus, it’s in your best interest to leave the doctor’s office without a prescription for antibiotics. That’s because in the United States, two million antibiotic-resistant infections occur each year. Most misused antibiotics are prescribed for viral respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections, as well as the common cold.

Source: The Journal of the American Medical Association, May 2016

Talk to your health care provider about when and how to safely use antibiotics. Ask:

  1. Do I really need antibiotics? Antibiotics fight bacterial infections, not viruses like common colds or flu.
  2. What are the risks? Antibiotics can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and more. They can also lead to antibiotic resistance.
  3. Are there simpler, safer options? Sometimes all you need is rest and plenty of liquid.

Additional tips:

  • Do not pressure your health care provider to prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Never skip doses or stop taking an antibiotic early, even if you no longer feel sick, unless your health care provider tells you to do so.
  • Never save antibiotics for the next time you become sick. Also, do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment, allow bacteria to multiply, and cause unwanted or severe side effects. Discard any leftover medication.

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Antibiotics are life-saving drugs. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Some ear infections do not require an antibiotic. Most sore throats do not require an antibiotic. Green colored mucus is not a sign that an antibiotic is needed. There are potential risks when taking any prescription drug.

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Want to know how much your prescription will cost?

Whenever you get a new prescription or switch medications, see if the drug is covered by checking the Wellmark Drug List on myWellmark. Also known as a formulary, the Wellmark Drug List details the drugs covered by your plan. With this tool, you can look up covered drugs and find out how much they cost. In addition to learning how much your prescription will cost, you can also:

  • Search for network pharmacies
  • Track your pharmacy claims
  • Check for drug interactions
  • Monitor your prescriptions and expenses

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