Talking to Others About Cold and Flu Season Is Our Best Defense

Talking to Others About Cold and Flu Season Is Our Best Defense

Cold and flu season begins in October and peaks between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re in the midst of the season, and I feel under pressure to do everything I can to remain as healthy as possible. Those of us who are living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) are considered high-risk, and we know that catching a cold or the flu with compromised lungs could be disastrous.

In my previous column, I discussed how mental health is the elephant in the room when living with IPF. Another concern that’s rarely discussed is how to be mindful of someone who is immunocompromised during cold and flu season. Sometimes I feel guilty when reminding others to be careful to avoid spreading germs even when I’m aware of the potentially severe adverse effects on my lungs and overall health. I’ve struggled with the awkwardness of asking others to keep away from me when they’re ill, particularly my colleagues with whom I share an office space.

I find it hard to comprehend a society that values work ethic more than physical health. We tend to push ourselves to maintain a schedule even when we’re unwell. I have had this attitude, too. I am reluctant to slow down. But I’ve learned to take care of myself — this has been one of the unexpected gifts of my IPF diagnosis. Though while I’m better at prioritizing my health, it’s still a work in progress. However, my awareness of this prevalent mindset makes it difficult for me to ask others to stay home from work when they are unwell.

I understand that people have commitments and that children need to attend school even when they’re a little under the weather. When informing others of my need to avoid germs, I say that I don’t expect them to do anything differently. Telling them that I will be proactive about staying away from them, using hand sanitizer frequently, and wearing my Vogmask tends to relieve others of the burden. However, I can’t do much if I am unaware that they’re sick or if they aren’t yet symptomatic, and they can’t do a lot about the latter, either.

So how can we be as proactive as possible at avoiding illnesses during cold and flu season?

We can take precautions to keep ourselves as healthy as possible. However, I’m learning that one of the most effective ways to remain well is to inform others of your needs during cold and flu season. Transparency is key to empowering others.

While conversations of this nature might be uncomfortable, they are essential. People with IPF can’t hibernate during the winter. A few years ago, I caught a mild cold that escalated into a critical illness. I was taken to the emergency room and subsequently admitted to the intensive care unit. My recovery was incredibly difficult because of my compromised lungs, and I lost lung function that I won’t regain. It was a turning point for me; I realized how fragile my lungs were because of the damage that persisted after that “small cold.”

I try to ensure that I remain healthy during cold and flu season, but I rely on others to help me, too. Put aside your discomfort and speak with others about your needs. Helping them to understand why colds and flu can be dangerous for those with compromised lungs is our best defense.

How do you inform others of your need to stay as healthy as possible during cold and flu season? Do you find these conversations difficult?


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


  1. Chuck Harrison says:

    I wear a mask ( surgical ) no matter where I go . I don’t bother giving an explanation when I get those questioning looks from others ! I mean everywhere , friends , doctors , stores , it doesn’t matter . All I’m trying to do is lengthen my life .
    A quick run down Charlene , everybody says I look good , I respond with a thank you and tell them I’m mess I the inside . I still am a happy guy but I’m getting more home bound ! I sleep a ton lately , barely any appetite at all , I supplement though .
    Well I’ll see ya Charlene ,
    As always your friend

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Chuck,

      So nice to hear from you as always – thanks for reaching out!
      Such an important thing to remember to do – wearing a surgical mask while out in public. Kudos to you!
      This disease is exhausting I agree, and glad to hear you are still supplementing your appetite because that’ll give you more energy though I know sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. We still need to fuel our bodies.
      Keep in touch my friend – think of you often!

  2. Marice Purser says:

    Hi, I live in Perth, Western Australia and I believe that a very bad viral infection I suffered in 2001 is part of many causes of my IPF. I was so imbedded for so long, that my neighbour was kind enough to come and regularly feed my cat. I also lost about 6 kilos. I was first diagnosed with IPF in 2012 and am now 74 and still doing quite well, considering the condition and the prognosis. Since then I have done a variety of overseas flights and tours and have found that when travelling, my husband and I always take a Zinc tablet every day. Since discovering this we have done several lengthy tours and have NEVER CAUGHT A COLD OR VIRUS. Yea, it pleases me no end to share this information with others, especially those with lung conditions. Even when not travelling, we each take 1 Zinc tablet twice per week. There was a time when my husband did not take his Zinc and caught a cold. Immediately I started taking Zinc every day whilst he suffered, and I did not catch the condition. Now every Wednesday and Sunday when I take my Zinc, I say a big thank you to the tablet. It sure has been a life saver for me. I sincerely hope that the same effect can apply to others. Best Wishes and Good Luck.

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Marcie,

      Thanks so much for reading my column and reaching out via the comments! Australia is one of my favourite places in the world, and I hope I can return next year!

      I’m glad to hear you’re doing fairly well into your diagnosis of IPF, though sorry you’re plagued with this cruel disease as well. I’ve heard really positive things about Zinc, similar to what you’ve mentioned so I’m really glad it has been effective for you and your husband. I so appreciate you sharing it, perhaps it will work as effectively for others! Thanks again for taking the time to share with us.
      Best wishes,

  3. I am over twice your age but still work more than 40hours a week. I also struggle with how to help others understand how serious their “sniffles” can be to me. Thank you for your well written article!!!

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Kathy,

      Thanks so much for reading my column and reaching out via the comments. Working with IPF is just exhausting, isn’t it? Sadly, I have some financial commitments, as many of us do, and I can’t just resign as much as I wish I could some days due to exhaustion. I’ve adjusted my role a little at work though to remove my exposure to illness, as the “sniffles” are very scary to me. Glad my column resonated with you and wishing you nothing but the very best.

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Angie,

      Thank you so much for reading my column and reaching out via the comments! Wow, I hadn’t come across that article on the Vogmask but I will certainly check it out and share with others as I know many of us living with IPF use this mask for “protection”. I can’t imagine the paper/surgical masks from the hospital are more effective but I suppose maybe they are? Something for me to look into, thank you for sharing!

  4. Linda says:

    I’ve been diagnosed with PF two years ago I have nebuliser morning and night with puffers if I need it my problem is I can’t sleep I have a whistle that is constant when relaxing not sure how to get rid of it as having so many sleepless nights don’t gobacktomy specialist for another month

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks for reading my columns and reaching out via the comments. Sorry to hear of your PF diagnosis as well – sure is a cruel illness, isn’t it? I was told by my physician that nebulizers aren’t effective for PF because of the moisture in them but truly have no idea whether or not this is true as I know others who have also been put on nebulizers. I have an inhaler that I use occasionally, but not convinced it is effective either. Have you tried propping yourself up a little bit with a wedge pillow to see if that helps eliminate the whistle? It is a good topic of discussion to add to the PF News forums too – feel free to pop it in there and see if anyone else has dealt with this issue:

      I hope someone can assist!


  5. Hello Charlene,
    I was informed in June that my PF has worsened. My surprise was that this was news to me. Didn’t know I had it! Anyhow, I am now on a mission to educate myself and very much appreciate people like yourself that give your time and energies to assist others. One of my immediate concerns is with the upcoming festive season relating to family gatherings, specifically flu shots. Very few family members get the shot. I am prepared not to attend but am worried about the family “fallout” from this decision.

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for writing and reading my columns. Sorry to hear that your disease has worsened, but I’m glad to hear you didn’t have a lot of symptoms indicating this, hopefully it stays that way for you for awhile. Educating (and advocating) for yourself is so very important – glad you’ve accepted this “mission”.

      I can relate about the upcoming festive season and the exposure to germs/risk. I actually just finished writing a column about this, which will be published on Monday, December 9th because I am into week 4 of a horrendous pneumonia and flu. It almost killed me when I first got it, so the fear is very real. I did get the flu shot but obviously I still got it. Please feel free to use my experience to help your loved ones understand the importance of getting a flu shot and/or your decision not to attend if they aren’t careful: I spent 3 weeks in hospital, on a ventilator for some of that time because I contracted both pneumonia and the flu. My lungs aren’t strong enough yet to do a PFT to see what the damage has been as a result of these viruses. I did everything “right” to protect myself – mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, avoiding crowds etc and I still wound up sick. I have “youth” on my side – I am 32 – but for someone a lot older, going through this could have killed them. Feel free to tell your family this story and remind them that the flu shot isn’t just for them, it is to protect you too. Goodluck – let me know if I can assist in any other way.

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