Pushing My Autoimmune Limits and Preventing the Flu

As discussed in my previous post on the results (benefits & side effects) of taking Humira, I went on a cruise to test my autoimmune system now that my inflammation is back to normal.

caribbean cruise - half moon cay

Caribbean Cruise – Paradise on the Private Island Half Moon Cay

Pushing My Autoimmune Limits and Getting the Flu

I went on a 4-day cruise and I could tell the night before I was leaving that I got the flu. Last year I went on a similar 4-day cruise, was not taking Humira (was taking Prednisone) and did not get the flu.  Here are the main reasons why I believe I got the flu this time:

  • Previous cruise I was very strict with my diet and ate only a few fringe foods.  This time I ate almost anything I wanted + lots of new foods I haven’t tried in years except for bread / grains / flours.  I wasn’t loading up on dairy, yeast-based products, etc., but lots of the food I ate (both at the buffet and even the upscale Chinese restaurant on the last day) contained many hidden ingredients.
  • The 2013-2014 flu is affecting more young adults than the 2012-2013 did.
  • The ship was sold out with 2,104 passengers; some from all over the world.  Even with all the sanitizer I used on board, a boat can be like a giant petri dish.
  • My immune system may have been lowered since I needed to take Humira on the 2nd day of my trip. [Flu requirements when taking Humira]
  • I was much more active this trip than last year.  4-5 hours of walking in Key West, 4-5 hours (all outside) on Half Moon Cay (played volleyball 1st time in years and walked around most of the island).  By the end of the third evening (Half Moon Cay) I saw that I was much more dehydrated that I thought.  The only downtime I had was the day of the Bahamas, but danced most of the evening until 1-2am in the morning.
  • Interacted much more with people and danced with many new people.  While this makes for a fun time, just one of those people could of had the flu or touched someone who had the flu & was passing it on.
  • I did not use my air mattress like last trip as I was able to sleep on the standard bed.  However, I did not get full nights of sleep and rarely took any daytime naps.

Preventing the Flu Before and After with an Autoimmune Disease

In the future, here are the steps I suggest people take preventing the flu before their trip with an autoimmune disease while on Humira (or any other biologic):

  • Although there is a lot of temptation out there, limit the types of foods to “simple foods”.  These foods are typically made of a few ingredients and don’t contain any fillers.  For example a meal like steak, rice, and broccoli would be fine.  But eggs benedict might not due to the extra dairy and possible flour used as a filler for the sauce(s).
  • If possible, don’t go on vacations with a lot of people confined in a space.  This one is really hard because that would restrict you from airplanes, cruises, or anything that travels with more than 20 people.  To help prevent this I suggest the next step…
  • Take lots of immune boosters.  Vitamin D3, magnesium, zinc, and echinacea are a few supplements to bring along and take at least a few days before you start your trip.
  • Get in the habit of washing your hands for at least 20-30 seconds per the requirements of the CDC.  Hum the “Happy Birthday” song while washing your hands to cover the 20-30 second time.
  • Take your biologic medicine at least 3-4 days prior to the trip.  If you need to take dosage twice a week, consider the larger dose sizes available (this mainly applies to those taking Enbrel).
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of rest prior to the trip.  This may be very difficult since most of us are finishing projects prior to the vacation.  But really try to get a solid 8 hours of sleep per night.  Naps in the afternoon a plus.

What if you got the flu after the trip or want to prevent the flu from sneaking in?  Here are steps I suggest people with an autoimmune disease take after their trip and especially those who got the flu.

  • Continue to take lots of immune boosters like vitamin D3, magnesium, zinc, and echinacea.
  • Drink lots of juice (even better to juice your own orange juice and other juices) to boost your Vitamin C.
  • Eat homemade chicken soup.  I have this excellent recipe for mom’s homemade chicken soup that uses mostly organic ingredients.  The broth from the chicken bones help boost your immune system and other key nutrients.
  • Stay away from people.  No one wants your flu and being active around people is not going to improve your health.
  • Drink hot teas to help soothe your throat.  Just make sure there is no caffeine in it.  I was the unfortunate recipient of drinking 3 hot teas on one day and the literature stated “naturally decaffeinated”.  Needless to say, I could not sleep till 3am.  Not fun.
  • The cold weather can not only get you the cold, but stay there.  More information from this ASAP science video below about how cold and humidity play a role in developing / continuation of a cold.
  • Try not to take your biologic medicine 3-4 days after your trip.  If you need to take dosage twice a week, consider the larger dose sizes available (this mainly applies to those taking Enbrel).
  • Consider using a diffuser with essential oils to purify the air around you.  Open up doors / windows from time to time to flush out the stagnant air.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20-30 seconds per the requirements of the CDC.  Hum the “Happy Birthday” song while washing your hands to cover the 20-30 second time.

My Flu Diary

My flu lasted from the evening of 12/22 – 12/28, 12/23 being the worst day (slept for 18 hours with 2-hour naps & getting up for 5-15 minutes in between) and Christmas Day being my psychological low point (home alone and sick sucks).  I then had a lingering cough which bruised my rib from 12/22 – 1/6.  My ribs are finally healing on 1/10 but may take another week to fully recover.

Have a suggestion on combating the flu before and after with an autoimmune disease?  Feel free to comment below & I’ll add it into this blog post.