Fire Fighting in Canada

Well Being: Combat the cold and flu

February 4, 2020  By Elias Markou

This year’s flu season is well underway, and it’s important to be prepared.

While many firefighters may decide to get the flu shot this season, some also may not. Regardless of your decision, all firefighters will find these immune boosting strategies useful during cold and flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there are two other viruses, influenza A(H3N2) and A(H1N1), competing with this year’s influenza B virus. Strengthening your immune system should be a priority. Tools to beating the cold and flu season include sleep, handwashing, vitamins and maintaining a nutritious diet.

■ Sanitation and sleep
A 2009 case control study found that handwashing at least three times per day was statistically associated with reducing the likelihood of household transmission of pandemic influenza A (H1N1) (1). Remembering to wash hands regularly can prevent the spread of the cold and flu and keep you protected.

In a 2019 Mayo Clinic article by Dr. James Steckelberg titled “Flu Mask: Should I wear one?”, he goes on to say, “some studies have shown that using a surgical mask can help prevent influenza, using a surgical mask and an alcohol-based hand sanitizer was shown to reduce the number of influenza-like illnesses even more.”


In addition to avoiding contact with germs and your face, you need high quality sleep. Washington State University researcher James Krueger showed that restful sleep creates a brain protein called AcPb that has been shown to speed up recovery in lab mice that were infected with the influenza virus H1N1 of the 2009 flu season (2).

■ Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
Six to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables should be a firefighter’s daily ritual. Consuming whole foods, and fruit and vegetables with many colours and a balance between cooked and raw preparation should be the target. A wonderfully balanced selection of fruits and vegetables helps ensure vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that boost the immune system.

■ Evidence-based vitamins
I strongly recommend you make vitamin D and Vitamin C a consistent part of your immune boosting protocol for the cold and flu season. A study conducted by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) showed that vitamin D supplements protect against acute respiratory infection including colds and influenza. The study, published in the British Medical Journal in 2017, studied 11,000 participants. Results showed high levels of vitamin D protected against infection. In the article, researchers recommended between 1000-2000 IU vitamin D per day. .

A 2018 case report titled “High Dose Vitamin C and Influenza in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine” indicated the effectiveness of high dose vitamin C against viral infections. The study also showed the oral dose of vitamin C over 3 grams appears to be able to prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infection (3).

Beating the cold and flu season by using sleep, handwashing, vitamins and healthy nutritional foods should be your winning flu strategy.

■ References

  1. Zhang D, Liu W, Yang P, Zhang Y, Li X, Germ KE, Tang S, Sun W, Wang Q. Factors associated with household transmission of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 among self-quarantined patients in Beijing, China. PLoS one 2013 Oct 8 (10):e77873.
  2. Szentirmai É, Kapás L, Sun Y, Smith RG, Krueger JM. (2009) The preproghrelin gene is required for normal integration of thermoregulation and sleep in mice. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 106:14069-14074
  3. Carr AC, Maggini S, Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9 (11). Pii. E1211.

Dr. Elias Markou is one very busy naturopathic doctor. He is in private practice in Mississauga, Ont., and is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Dr. Markou was a firefighter for six years; he is a firefighter health expert and blogger who is regularly featured on television and radio and in print. Contact him at

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