It’s that time of year – the holiday season has passed, and you’re starting to think that if you’ve made it this far without getting sick, then what are the chances? Well, rumor has it that winter 2020 will have the worst snow flurries in Seattle history. But wait, there’s more. Historically in Seattle, the influenza virus circulates starting in fall, peaks in January, and lasts until April, when it is the heaviest.

Current Influenza Levels by Region

Since influenza levels are on the rise with the worst yet to come, it is essential to take preventative measures immediately, especially since immunity levels take some time to increase.

Imagine this, a normal workday, and is suddenly disrupted by a loud…


Your colleague sneezes from across the way and you are imagining the micro slime balls coming at you at lightning speed. Rest assured, they are not traveling 200 feet as you may have heard, but they are traveling 19 to 26 feet at 100 mph. Yikes.

map depicting influenza levels in Washington State.

So, if anyone has blasted a sneeze with full mouth open, now with your newly found knowledge, imagine the germ-filled particles showering you with all their glory. You like your colleague, but the microdroplets of saliva on your sparkly clean computer screen and keyboard have you contemplating a virus to haunt said person’s laptop. To prevent and minimize damage from germs, below are some tips on protecting yourself.

The Unspoken Rules of Health-Based Office Etiquette

1.  Stay home if you’re contagious. Having sniffles is okay, but if you are too sick, don’t come to work.

2. Blow your nose in the bathroom and then wash your hands. In the case of an emergency, blowing your nose at your desk is acceptable. But, please sanitize your hands afterward.

3.  Cover your mouth when sneezing, then disinfect your hands by using hand sanitizer or go wash your hands. Be careful not to touch doorknobs on your way to the bathroom. Wash your hands frequently.

4.  Keep your work area clean. Don’t put these things off; you should be doing these regularly: disinfect your desk, keyboard, lights, pens, phone, wipe your laptop screen any place you regularly touch. Also, clean up crumbs, spills, and left-over food immediately; you don’t want to grow mold and end up breathing in the spores. Unless you’re eating McDonald’s fries; then you have nothing to worry about on the mold front, except it will lower your overall immunity from the hundreds of chemicals you just ate.

5.  Don’t touch your shoes and then put food in your mouth. That’s just asking for illness.


Take care of yourself. But, how? Not to worry. I will proceed to reveal my most prized secrets here. These have allowed my family to avoid colds and the flu naturally this entire winter. Remember, prevention is key. But, don’t beat yourself up if you do get sick; sometimes we cannot control the environmental factors that suppress our immune systems, like when someone sneezes or coughs directly in your eyes or mouth.

Did you know bees are the only living creature on earth that do not carry any type of pathogen? Take propolis. Lots of it. I don’t get any endorsements or money from this company, but I should.

a bee on a flower.

Their products work and they don’t taste bad, unlike other brands. Beekeeper’s Naturals Propolis Spray. I highly suggest that you use more than the recommended amount. The founder of the company had almost non-existent immunity due to an auto-immune disease and used a dosage of 5-6 times the recommended daily amount to achieve strong immunity. If you’re traveling to the airport, please use the spray on you and your family members over a year old. You don’t want to walk into a battlefield unarmed, do you?

My second ultra underground utterly amazing secret is elderberry. Did you know elderberries prevent the flu virus from entering your cells? Yes, it’s your very own invisible shield. Taking elderberry, which is high in zinc, is known to shorten colds. It also contains bioflavonoids that reduces inflammation. One brand I am a fan of is Sambucus Elderberry Gummies. Take them. Otherwise, I will cry for having told you my amazing secret because it was just wasted on deaf ears.

Now, if you do become sick, we’ll have to do some diagnostics to see if you’re carrying a cold (bacterial) or a virus. If you have a bacterial infection, you can do something about it. If you have a virus, I’m sorry you’ll have to stick it out because antibiotics will not kill those suckers. But, don’t pout. Surprise, I have a remedy for you. Please see the Nursing and Illness section for some tips.

Self Diagnosing Cold vs. Virus

According to WebMD, the common cold usually includes a runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and eventually, a cough. Fever or severe symptoms may appear, especially in children. Additional symptoms may include pain in muscles or body ache; phlegm when coughing; loss of smell; fatigue; malaise; eyes may be watery, itchy, or red; sinus pressure and/or headache; chest pressure, swollen lymph nodes, and throat irritation. Eventually, the congestion will cause your mucus to turn dark yellow, but that does not necessarily mean you have developed a secondary infection, such as a bacterial or sinus infection. A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. Cold symptoms usually last about a week. You will be contagious during the first three days of your cold symptoms manifesting. If cold symptoms last longer than a week and do not seem to be improving, it’s likely you have developed a secondary bacterial infection.

Influenza symptoms are usually much more severe than cold symptoms, and come on quickly, then last for a long time. The flu can make you feel ill for a few days to a few weeks. It can also lead to pneumonia (usual symptoms are shortness of breath and fever that comes back after it’s been gone for 1-2 days) and hospitalization.

One can usually distinguish between the cold and flu by body temperature and severity of symptoms. Flu tends to produce higher fevers, have more severe symptoms, and last longer. The below chart was created from information found on WebMD:

chart showing the differences between cold and flu symptoms.
How To Tell the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu

Nursing an Illness

If you’re already sick, whether from a bacteria or virus, you should continue taking propolis and elderberry, but try adding the below-mentioned powerful herbs when you first notice the symptoms. Otherwise, your suffering could last for a while.

At the onset of cold or flu-like symptoms, I have found that taking Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic remedy, shortens the duration and severity of my illness. It can be purchased over the counter at natural health food stores, such as Whole Foods.

Goldenseal root and echinacea (usually in pill or liquid drop form) also has done wonders for sore throats and can ease symptoms of the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections. Echinacea, especially taken with goldenseal, is a powerful combination that increases your immunity against the cold and flu. Echinacea is another beneficial herbal remedy for colds and flus.  It can help reduce inflammation and blood pressure, control blood sugar, aid in healthy cell growth, and manage anxiety.

Additional Well-being Tips (For Overachievers)

Eat superfoods and Supplements

There are many superfoods that have come into our awareness these days, such as açaí, goji berry, maca, and fermented cod liver oil, which are touted for their extraordinary ability to raise the level of our health. One superfood I believe will make a huge difference in strengthening your immunity are mushrooms, which have the ability to prevent and cure cancer by protecting cells against DNA damage and inhibiting tumors. They also control cholesterol, prevent plaque build-up in the heart and blood vessels, promote the health of good gut bacteria, keep cells young via antioxidants,

chart showing the benefits of different kinds of mushrooms.

protect the brain as one ages, boost memory, strengthen bones, and boost energy. Not surprisingly, they are also packed with important nutrients such as B vitamins, selenium, potassium, copper, and vitamin D. Talk about a superfood!

Organic Foods

Eat all organic, pasture-fed, and pasture-finished whole foods as much as your budget allows. Pasture-fed means the animal could frolic in the grass and eat what they were meant to. Pasture-finished means that the animal, a few days prior to its slaughter, was left to graze on the grass instead of going to the feedlot where despite having been pastured for their whole life, would be subject to eating the same grains as the other non-organic animals. In animals that are organic, yet not pasture-finished, this final feedlot feeding has now tainted the animal. Grains are not actually what animals should be eating, so when they do, it causes immense digestive upset for the animal that is only controlled through massive amounts of antibiotics. This causes further dying off of the good flora or its microbiome in its gut, which will cause more inflammation in its body. Not all foods that are labeled “organic” are safe. Do your research about each company’s processes. If you are not sure, you can write to them.


This doesn’t mean do a juice fast or participate in the latest cleanse…coffee enema, anyone? Avoid physical, emotional, and environmental toxins. Now, I don’t mean live inside a bubble. There is no way you can avoid all stress; however, you can and should address all stress. Try to get rid of as many stressors as possible, and then perform actions that will help you deal with what’s left, such as yoga or meditation, or picking up a fun hobby like boxing at the gym. Don’t internalize, but rather, divert.


Movement equals vital life force and energy. Not to mention it will burn off excess glucose in your bloodstream.

Get Your Sleep

Your body needs sleep to repair, process, and prepare for the next day. Less than ideal sleep will throw off your hormones, increase cortisol, lower your immune system functioning, and lower your leptin levels so you’ll get fat. You wouldn’t want that would you? It’s worse enough worrying about not getting sick.

Practice Gratitude

Be grateful and present in the now. Don’t get into a rut thinking about the past or not being where you want yet. Acknowledge the past, and let it go. Welcome the future but focus on the present. You’ll have fewer gray hairs that way.

Julie Ryu is a Senior Data Analyst at Affirma.

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