Confession: I rarely get an annual flu vaccine, even though the CDC and almost every medical expert out there recommends them. I know that I should get vaccinated, but except for the two years when I was pregnant and maybe a few other times, I haven't made it a priority. I'm not alone, apparently: Although the World Health Organization aims to have 75% of the population vaccinated against seasonal influenza, the world falls short of that (though of course much of the world has trouble affording or accessing the vaccine—I'm not sure what percentage of the population is, like me, simply lazy).
A study just published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing and covered by Science Daily found that older people who don't get the flu vaccine are more likely to rely upon folksy or "indigenous" health practices to prevent or cure the flu. Some of the practices reported by study subjects in seven countries included drinking warm drinks made with ginger or lemon, getting a massage, taking an herb bath, eating yogurt and even eating steamed pears (?). Reading this got me thinking about some of the folksy (some might say superstitious) ways my family attempts to stave off illness. For instance, whenever I feel a tickle in my throat I make sure to wear thick socks to bed—even if it's hot out, even if I'm wearing little else, I think of socks as essential to immunity. No, there is absolutely no scientific basis for this, but it's something that my mother (I think, or maybe it was my grandmother?) once told me to do that I stubbornly cling to. And whenever my mother-in-law is sick, or thinks she's about to be, she heats up orange juice in the microwave, adds salt to it and guzzles it down. Of course, some traditional, "old wives tale" remedies have turned out to be effective: Chicken soup (another of my mother-in-law's favorites—she throws back chicken broth from a glass when ill) has been shown in lab tests to suppress the inflammation that causes cold symptoms, and yogurt usually contains probiotics, which support the immune system.
Still, experts say that none of these remedies (and definitely not my socks) protect against the flu, an illness we should take seriously. According to the CDC 5 to 20% of the population gets the flu each year and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications. This year's flu vaccine protects against both the seasonal variety and the H1N1 "swine flu" virus that made so many headlines last year (though, last year anyway, the media hype surrounding it seemed to be much more virulent than the virus itself!).
Peak flu season begins in November, so now is the time to schedule a vaccination. Do you plan to get the vaccine? If not, and even if you do, do you still rely on any old-wives-tale remedies passed down from your mom or grandmother? If so, what are they?