Every year hundreds of thousands of people head to conventions to talk tech, gaming, business, geek culture and even knitting! By the end, attendees walk out with swag, intel and sometimes a rather nasty cold. Protect yourself from the infamous "con crud" and leave these gatherings in perfect health with these handy tips.
Illustration by Tina Mailhot-Roberge.
As we've all seen from myriad zombie movies, it takes only one Patient Zero to send out a rippling wave of death. Events like the Electronic Entetainment Expo (E3), Microsoft's Tech Ed and Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) create the perfect conditions for the flu virus to rapidly bounce from person to person. Namely, huge crowds tightly packed together and touching the same things. Unless you roll around inside a bubble, you're exposed.
While exposure alone will not guarantee full-blown sickness, people with a compromised immune system -- perhaps due to insufficient rest, excess stress, and other harmful lifestyle behaviours -- are far more likely to actually develop symptoms. Here's what you can do to help your body fend off (Space?) invaders in conventions and any public functions.
Before the Convention
Ideally, in the weeks or months leading up to the convention, you will want to consider a few simple lifestyle changes. Like many things in life, including levelling up your immune system, nothing worthwhile happens overnight:
Adopt An Exercise Routine
You don't have to aim to look like Chris Evans in Captain America, but regular low-to-moderate activity bolsters immune function. What's more, those who exercise and do come down with something experience an overall muted response compared to their non-exercising cohorts. While overall lower incidences of infection have yet to be directly linked to regular exercise, you'll find that that's just a drop in the ocean of benefits associated with exercise. http://lifehacker.com/5679696/regula...
This doesn't mean you need to go from doing nothing to slinging weights in the gym or running marathons. When you first transition from a sedentary lifestyle, brisk walking for 30 minutes a couple times a week is enough to start reaping in the benefits of exercise.
Adopt A Balanced Diet
Everyone could stand to eat more fruits and vegetables.
You don't have to always love the foods you're eating, but incorporating a variety of proteins (beef, lamb, chicken, fish), vegetables, fruits, fats (avocado, animal fats, nuts, dairy) and carb sources (potatoes, rice, oats, even bread) provides your body with the necessary nutrition to function at its best. Variety is key, because different foods will have different amounts of (or different altogether) vitamins and nutrients.
When you don't eat a balanced diet, dietary deficiencies can occur. Deficiencies in certain micro-nutrients, such as zinc, selenium, vitamin E, vitamin A, iron and folic acid, have been associated with a weakened immune response. Harvard Health Publication suggests a daily multivitamin if you think you're not getting what you need from your diet. Others don't endorse using supplements at all, citing that they're a waste of money and often unnecessary.
You can find out whether you are (roughly) hitting your daily vitamin and nutrient goals by tracking a few day's worth of food in an app like Cron-O-meter, a webpage like FitDay, or talking to a registered dietician.
During the Convention
When you're in the thick of things it's easy to throw caution to the wind, but once you're on the show floor, walking to panels, and surrounded by other con-goers, you are now more vulnerable than ever. Here's what you should remember:
Get Adequate Sleep
This is probably your number one priority. Many of these conventions will have events going round-the- clock, enticing you to sink deeper and deeper into sleep debt. Sleep deprivation makes for an impaired immune system and well, a multitude of increased mortality risk factors. Overall, this is red alert for your immune system.
What counts as "adequate" sleep varies based on your sleeping habits. Some people will need a full six to ten hours, while others can skate by on less. Some will even need more. Regardless, sleep might seem expendable when there's a lot going on and you only have a few days to see it all. Try to consider what you can give up. Weigh the pros of focusing on a few speakers or panels, for example and the cons of giving up on others so you actually remember what you saw.
Drink Plenty Of Fluids
Sufficient hydration keeps those protective layers of mucous membranes in your skin, nose, and mouth healthy. Dried out mucous membranes will allow those nasty bugs to take hold in those areas. Plus, dehydration just blows open a host of other potential issues like headaches and light-headedness that you shouldn't have to deal with.
Minimise Alcohol Consumption
Most conventions bring new and old friends together in alcohol-impaired merriment (and most likely to levels of excess). While this is all fun and games at the time, alcohol will make your immune system tank. In a study published in the aptly-named journal Alcohol, researchers at Loyola University found that a single episode of binge drinking was enough to alter immune function.
Although the study notes a heightened anti-inflammatory state in its subjects, the researchers observed the effect to be short-lived and the immune system essentially became less effective than when the subjects were sober!
If you must partake in drinking, at least practice moderation.
While some form of human contact is inevitable at these events, our own Alan Henry suggests "fist bumping with folks" rather than shaking hands. A little goofy, sure, but the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention mentions that viral infections like the flu are likely transmitted via infected water droplets when people sneeze, cough, and wipe their snot on their hands and touched surfaces.
Wash Your Hands
Some people can overdo it on the hand washing, but the best practice is to simply wash your hands before you eat and touch your face or mouth. If you find it inconvenient to be running to the bathroom to lather up every time, have a portable hand sanitizer on you at all times. Harvard Medical School reports alcohol-based sanitizers to be more effective than soap and water alone.
Still, soap and water are just as useful in most situations, so make sure you're washing your hands correctly.
After the Convention
You're not quite in the clear yet -- merely out of the oven and into the frying pan, so to speak! You have probably spent the last couple of days paying little attention to your body's signals for rest, proper nutrition, and hygiene. Now's the time to relax and rest up.
With everything that went on, you're probably all wound up like a pretzel. Get plenty of sleep and do what you enjoy to relax and de-stress. Go for a walk, kick back and catch up on Netflix; hell, watch a comedy. The old saying that "laughter is the best medicine" is no joke; true laughter may have a positive benefit on your immune system.
Now comes the tricky part: You have to avoid catching the nerd flu from colleagues or other less fortunate folks who didn't read this convention survival guide and got sick. Good luck!