Winter is now well upon us, and it’s once again that time of year when colds and flu seem to be paying a visit to everyone.
Influenza is a highly infectious disease that not only affects humans, but also birds, pigs and other animals. It generally appears in seasonal epidemics that result in 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and around 250,000 to 500,000 deaths world wide each year. During pandemics, deaths can rise into the millions. The virus tends to mutate and create new strains of itself when it comes into contact with other versions or strains, such as those that come from pigs or birds. It is generally an air-borne virus, but it can also be contracted through contact with infected mucous or bird droppings.
There are certain groups of people who are more at risk of developing complications as a result of exposure to the flu virus. At particular risk are the elderly, very young children, and those with a compromised immunity or metabolism problems. Those who have issues with the heart, lung, kidneys, liver or blood are also at risk.
The flu virus can exist on surfaces such as bench-tops, hand rails and desks, so washing your hand before you eat or put anything near your mouth is a good prevention policy. If you do have a cold or the flu, when coughing or sneezing make sure you try to cover your mouth to prevent the spread of the illness to others.
In Chinese medicine, hot and cold influences health balance and so it is thought that cold and dampness make your immune system more susceptible to attack by viruses and other micro-organisms. Rug up and keep warm, eat hearty and stimulating foods, like stews or soups with the addition of herbs such as garlic, ginger, basil and rosemary, will help stimulate the circulation and boost the immune system.
The results from a 2011 study from Shangdong University show that the mushroom Ganoderma lucidim may provide prophylactic protection against influenza infection via stimulation of immuno-protection. Ganoderma is one of the ingredients in IM1, a fantastic supplement for supporting the immune system as a tonic, and during times of stress.
Andrographis Complex is also great as a tonic for immune support. Research supports the use of Andrographis, particularly for infections of the upper respiratory tract. If started early in the infection, Andrographis has a high degree of effectiveness in reducing the prevalence and intensity of the symptoms in viruses.
Echinacea is a well known herb for treating colds and flu. There is a large body of evidence on the efficacy of Echinacea and its uses. It has an anti-viral action as well as anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. 
Keeping active, getting enough rest and maintaining a good diet during winter is also a great preventative. So this winter, keep warm, eat well and stay healthy!
 World Health Organization http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs211/en/
 Wang. L & Hou. Y. Determination of Trace Elements in anti-influenza virus mushrooms. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2011 Dec. Epub 2011 Feb 8
 Caceres.D.D. Use of visual analogue scale measurements (VAS) to asses the effectiveness of standardized Andrographispaniculata extract SHA-10 in reducing the symptoms of common cold. A randomized double blind-placebo study.
 Analysis of phenolic compounds and radical scavenging activity of Echinacea spp. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2004;35(2):289.