Flu Prevention and the Gym
by: Jon Gestl
warning this month of a potentially harsh flu season should be
a red flag to avid aerobic-bunnies and gym-jocks alike.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warn that the flu is
transmitted when flu virus in the air is inhaled after an
infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. Transmission also
occurs when a person touches a surface that has flu virus on it
and then touches his or her nose or mouth.
Those familiar with the typical
health club milieu, then, can easily liken a workout in
the gym to sitting in a veritable Petry dish…
Heavy-breathing members on closely-placed cardiovascular
machines and in crowded group fitness classes, hundreds of
kinds of shared equipment from dumbbells and weight plates to
public restrooms and the corner water fountain provide
countless opportunities for contact with the flu virus. So,
short of ditching our fitness goals until mid-Spring, it would
do us well to learn more about the flu, it's prevention, and
what we can do about it.
What is the flu?
The flu, or influenza, is a contagious disease caused by the
influenza virus. It attacks the respiratory tract in humans
(nose, throat, and lungs). The flu is different from a cold; it
usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms:
Tiredness (can be extreme)
About 10% to 20% of U.S. residents will get the flu each year.
Among these persons infected, an average of 36,000 will die,
and 114,000 will be hospitalized. Although the CDC claims it is
not possible to accurately predict the severity of the flu
season, this year's early incidence of Type A flu strain is
historically associated with a more severe flu season,
including higher numbers of related hospitalizations and
deaths. To make the outlook more grim, an epidemiological
assessment by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) already
reports "widespread" influenza activity in over 10 U.S.
Who is at risk?
Although anyone can get the flu, including individuals who are
healthy, there are various groups who are at higher risk for
complications. These high risk groups include:
persons aged > 50 years;
residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
that house persons of any age who have long-term illnesses;
adults and children > 6 months of age who have chronic heart
or lung conditions, including asthma;
adults and children > 6 months of age who need regular
medical care or had to be in a hospital because of metabolic
diseases (like diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened
immune system (including immune system problems caused by
medicine or by infection with human immunodeficiency virus
children and teenagers (aged 6 months to 18 years) who are on
long-term aspirin therapy and therefore could develop Reye
Syndrome after the flu; and
women who will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu
How to Prevent Getting the Flu
Health officials are encouraging people, particularly those in
high-risk groups to obtain a flu shot. The CDC states that an
annual flu shot is the best way to reduce the chances that you
will get the flu.
The best time to get a flu shot is from October through
November, although you can still benefit from getting the
vaccine after November, even if the flu is present in your
community. Be aware that it takes about two weeks after the
vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body to provide
Obtaining the vaccine does not guarantee a flu-free season,
however. Influenza viruses are constantly changing, and vaccine
effectiveness depends on the match between vaccine strains and
circulating viruses and the age and health status of the person
getting the shot. Although the strain in this year's flu
vaccine is different from the circulating strain, the CDC
states that studies indicate that the vaccine should provide
some cross-protection against the circulating A strain.
Some people resist getting the flu shot because of the belief
that they will get severe side effects, or even the flu itself,
from the vaccine. The viruses in the vaccine are inactivated,
so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Certain side effects
are possible, such as soreness, redness, or swelling where the
shot was given, fever (low grade), and aches.
Chances that the shot will cause serious harm, or death, is
very small and allergic reactions to the vaccine, though
possible, are rare, states the CDC. Most people who get the
vaccine have no serious problems with it. However, the
following groups should not get a flu shot before talking with
People with an allergy to hens' eggs.
People who have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the
People who have developed Guillian-Barre Syndrome in the 6
weeks following a flu shot.
Since obtaining vaccination doesn't necessarily guarantee
immunity against the flu, it is wise to add common sense to our
prevention efforts while we are busy pumping iron at the health
club. Old fashioned hand-hygiene can go a long way in helping
to prevent flu transmission. Although you don't want to spend
your entire workout running to the restroom to wash your hands
after every set, it's certainly advisable to make sure your
hands are clean before and after the workout. Refrain from
touching your nose and mouth during the workout to avoid
obtaining the virus. Use of hand-antiseptics which include
alcohol can also help to prevent transmission of the flu
What to do if you get the flu
So what if you obtain a flu shot, practice stellar hand-hygiene
and manage to contract the flu anyway? Since it is impossible
to tell if you have the flu based on symptoms alone, visit your
doctor. Tests can be performed in the first few days of the
illness to determine the diagnosis. Since influenza is caused
by a virus, antibiotics won't work to cure it. You need to
rest, drink plenty of fluids, avoid using alcohol and tobacco,
and possibly take medication to relieve symptoms.
The CDC warns never to give aspirin to children or teenagers
who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever, without
speaking to your doctor. Doing so can cause a rare but serious
illness called Reye syndrome.
By all accounts, we may be in store for a particularly harsh
flu season this year. Take precaution to reduce the likelihood
of getting the flu, particularly if you are an avid gym-goer.
Preventative measures may not only help to avoid the flu, but
also interrupting hard earned progress on your fitness
For more information about the flu, it's transmission,
prevention and treatment, check out the CDC website at
About The Author
Jon Gestl, CSCS, is a personal fitness trainer and instructor
in Chicago specializing in in-home and in-office fitness
training. He is a United States National Aerobic Champion
silver and bronze medalist and world-ranked sportaerobic
competitor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.