Smorgasbord Health Column – Winterise your Body – Influenza by Sally Cronin

Last time I looked at protecting our bodies against the common cold. I now want to take a look at influenza as this too can have a very serious affect on the very young and old and those who have poorly functioning immune systems.

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the First World War. Between 20 and 40 million people died and because the figures were so horrendous we may never know the true extent of this awful two-year period. Very few countries were spared and its effects on an already devastated world population were horrendous. It was called the Spanish Flu because the earliest mortalities were in Spain were over 8 million people died.

Anywhere that soldiers or refugees gathered in large numbers became infected and the early outbreaks were largely ignored. Returning soldiers from the front brought the disease home to every city, town and village. Most of the populations throughout Europe were poorly nourished following the war years and were in no condition to fight off this virulent infection especially as there were none of the drugs that we have available today.

How ironic to have survived the war years, including years in the trenches to then succumb to an infection. They estimate that over a fifth of the world’s population was infected and those most at risk appear to have been between the ages of 20 and 40. The exact same age as those that fought for four hard years on various battlefronts. 28% of Americans were infected and over 675,000 Americans died. Of the US soldiers who died in Europe half were killed by influenza.

The initial cause of the outbreak has never been established. The theory was that conditions in the trenches and the use of chemicals such as mustard gas created the environment where the infection thrived. There have been links to unusually humid weather, which certainly created the perfect environment to foster viral and bacterial infections amongst sick, injured and immune suppressed soldiers and the medical staff who cared for them.

Little did we know that 100 years later we would succumb to another virus that would result in another global pandemic which in some parts of the world is still resulting in fatalities. Worldometers Coronavirus

Coronavirus Cases:




Influenza statistics

“Up to 650,000 people in the world die from seasonal flu each year. This is much higher than the often-used numbers of 250,000 to 500,000 deaths cited by the World Health Organization (WHO) based on data thought to reach back decades, which did not take into account experience of developing countries. However, since then, many countries have improved their flu surveillance systems, and have been able to estimate deaths from the disease.”  Huffington Post 2022

What is Influenza (Flu)?

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. In a person with a strong immune system the symptoms may be very mild with a headache, feverishness, sore throat, muscle aches and a runny nose. In very young children or in elderly patients there can also be gastric complications with vomiting and diarrhoea.

If left untreated or if a person has very little resistance to infection there can be complications including pneumonia. Dehydration is a problem that can exacerbate existing problems such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes.

How do we catch the flu?

The virus is spread in respiratory drops caused by coughing and sneezing although it is possible to catch the virus after touching contaminated surfaces and then passing the virus to the nose or mouth as with the common cold.

One of the problems with the flu is that you can infect someone else a day before you show the symptoms which gives you 24 hours to put others at risk at work, in schools or on public transport. Who of us has not sat next to someone on a plane for a few hours while they cough and splutter the way on holiday? An infected person is still contagious for five days after their symptoms have appeared. This usually means that it is very difficult to avoid contagion within a family where you live together in a close knit unit.

How do we prevent infection?

The same rules apply for the flu as for the common cold and Covid.  Your main form of defence is the simple act of washing your hands frequently. It is also essential to limit your contact with people who are obviously suffering from an infection. As I have just mentioned this is difficult due to the nature of the progression of the influenza, that 24 hour window when there are no symptoms can result in multiple infections.

I certainly will be continuing to wear a mask in enclosed spaces such as the supermarket and other shops. It has become a habit and interestingly it seems to be the older generation who continue to do so. At the time of writing this post it is no longer mandatory but we shall see what this flu season brings.

One answer during the flu months of October, November, December, January and February is to stop kissing and shaking hands with friends and family when you meet them. My mother when she hit 90 had a couple of colds one after the other and I put a ban on her usual habit of kissing everyone she met… For the next five years she did not get one cold. She also had an alcohol based hand sanitiser that she used when going out and after meeting people.

Also in the UK and here in Ireland everyone over 65 can have an annual flu shot as can the carers of vulnerable groups. My mother had this every year and it obviously helped. There is some controversy over the vaccine and its safety. It is a decision you need to make after discussing with your doctor but my opinion on the subject is that certainly for those in their mid 70’s and 80’s the risk of the disease is greater than the jab…

The flu shot that is available from the autumn onwards. The vaccine contains killed virus and can be given to anyone over 6 months old. An interesting research study has also highlighted another possible benefit which is a reduction in the risk of strokes for those who are vaccinated particularly in the older bracket of patients Spanish study

Those most at risk of influenza

  • The most at risk are 65 years old and over because they are more likely to have medical conditions that put them at risk of infection.
  • People who live in long term care facilities or hospitals.
  • A person of any age who is already suffering from a pre-existing condition such as heart disease or asthma.
  • Children between the ages of 6 months and 24 months.
  • Anyone who is on assisted respiratory machinery.

Other precautions

For healthy people there is the option of a nasal spray that contains live but weakened flu viruses that do not actually cause the flu but stimulate the antibodies needed to protect against the full strength influenza virus.

It is very important that your immune system is as strong as it needs to be before the winter months. Apart from avoiding contact with those you know to be infected you have to guard against those people who are not showing symptoms. You will have no idea who has the virus or not so your best line of defence is to ensure your body is strong enough to fix the problem fast.

A reminder of some basic precautions to avoid infection or passing it along.

  • Wear a mask in enclosed spaces
  • If you have the infection then do cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and discard hygienically straightaway.
  • Wash your own hands with soap and water at every opportunity or use an specific alcohol based hand cleaner.
  • Avoid touching your own eyes, nose or mouth to avoid re-infection.
  • Change your pillow cases every day and I find using a pillow cover and washing that too helps.
  • Also, you should exercise regularly in the fresh air and avoid over-heated, unventilated living spaces. Your nasal passages dry out they are more likely to become infected and this applies to those of us who live in air-conditioned and centrally heated environments most of the year.

You will find some of the foods that help boost your immune system in the post on the common cold and I have put the link to that below. Whilst the temptation in winter is to dive into hot and warming comfort foods and sugary treats, by including lots of fresh, uncooked natural fruit and vegetables as part of your diet will help keep you healthy throughout the cold months.

Here is the link to last week’s post which includes an immune boosting eating programme: Winterise your Body – Nothing more common than a cold

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2022

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-four years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines, radio programmes and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here::Sally’s books and reviews


Thanks for visiting and I am always delighted to receive your feedback.. stay safe Sally.


37 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – Winterise your Body – Influenza by Sally Cronin

  1. I read this article carefully. Great information! I’ve been relatively healthy (knock on wood) for the last few years, although I’m on week 3 of persistent sinusitis at present. We’re flying in a week, so I hope to be over this darn thing by then.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. All good advice, Sally 🙂 I’ve been finding people don’t cover their mouths when they cough lately, so I try to stay away from them.

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  3. Thanks for another very interesting advice, Sally! Maybe you have heard about him. We have our Karl, the Secretary of Health. Whenever a virus comes in sight, Karl is shouting so loud the virus get deef, and can’t hear it’s comrades. Lol hugsx Michael

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  4. We had flu about ten years ago and the damage it caused was surprisising. We have our shot every year now! One of our sons-in-law is a healthworker and he taught his children to cough and sneeze into their elbows. It seemed weird at first but has become more mainstream since Covid rolled in. Thanks for all of this information and advice, Sally. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A worthy and timely post Sal. One hundred years ago when influenza killed so many there was NO vaccine. We’ve come so far and I for one am grateful for all the vaccines scientists have created for us. I took my flu shot a week ago because our hospitals are already laden with influenza patients. I know that when I had Covid it was mild, thanks for all my vaccines. Yes, the flu shot made me feel crappy for a few days, but I imagine that if I were to catch it, I’d be happy to only get a mild version being protected. ❤

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  6. We are still masking up in shops and crowded places its second nature now…good timely advice on how we can prepare ourselves and what we can do to avoid getting infected with the flu virus,,, reblogged Hugs xx

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  8. Thank you for this post and how poiniant today.
    I don’t teach many days now but was, this week, in Reception for three days, the children were coughing and spluttering away.
    My grandson was snuffly this week too.
    I’m luckily dosed up myself.
    Today the children were being given a flu nasel spray vaccine (if they agreed).
    I had a story to share which seemed to fit perfectly – ‘A Spooky Tale’ – where the children went on a walk with the teacher and ‘Didn’t feel well’.
    Children in Need and Pudsey Bear added to their day too.

    It’s no surprise that it is the teachers who go off sick!
    But at least these days they can.
    At least with Reception (and three year old grandsons) there is often a good bit of outside play.
    They just have to remember to put their coats on !?

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