The flu refers to a contagious respiratory illness caused by the various strains of the influenza virus. Flu symptoms can me mild or severe and often come on suddenly. They include fever, chills, muscle aches, sore throat, headache, extreme fatigue or malaise, dry cough and a runny nose. Patients with the flu may also exhibit some gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms outside of the respiratory system are much more common in children than adults.
Every year in the United States, approximately 5-20% of the population acquires the flu, meaning 25-50 million reported cases of influenza. Usually, this translates to about 150,000 hospitalizations and 30,000-40,000 deaths. Older adults account for about 90% of annual deaths due to influenza and pneumonia.
The virus is highly contagious and travels by air to its next host, which is why school-age children are usually the first group to be infected. Flu season typically occurs in the fall and winter, otherwise known as “flu season.”
Epidemiologists classify the influenza virus into three types: A, B and C. These types are divided into subtypes labeled by two proteins on the outer coat of the virus, the hemagglutinin (H) protein and the (N) neuraminidase protein. Then, when naming particular viruses, scientists place numbers after each letter, like H3N2. Different strains of the H3N2 may have developed in various regions of the country or world, so you may have the Bangkok strain of the H3N2 and the Wisconsin strain of the H3N2. All very complicated, don’t you think? What this really means is that the influenza virus mutates quite easily, and adapts quickly to its environment resulting in a multitude of viral types, subtypes, and strains. This tendency makes the job of vaccine makers very hard, as you can imagine, as a vaccine for the Wisconsin strain of the H3N2 virus is not very effective against the Bangkok strain of the same subtype. Imagine if the vaccine were for the H3N2 and the circulating strain was a completely different subtype altogether??
OK. Now on to the swine flu. Just to be clear, the swine flu is still just a flu. You will develop an upper respiratory infection with mild to severe symptoms. Just like any other flu, certain people may die due to this infection, but MOST people do not. The reason why epidemiologists are concerned is that it is a new strain and has only recently been transmitted from pigs to humans. Historically, strains more recently acquired from the animal host tend to be more readily transmitted from person to person (remember the avian flu?). But, in this case, the extent of swine flu has been declared “moderate” with most patients experiencing mild symptoms and full recovery without medical treatment.
Vaccine efficacy – the recent history:
In the 2007-08 flu season, the vaccine did not match the circulating strains of influenza very well. In fact, the vaccine did not match two of the three viral strains actually making people sick. In the end, its overall protective efficacy was about 40%. And the year before, in 2006-07, the vaccine matched the subtype of the predominant flu virus, H3N2, but patients were vaccinated for the Wisconsin strain while the circulating strain was of the Brisbane lineage. This resulted in 52% efficacy of the vaccine. Historically, predicting which influenza strains to include in the vaccine has been an ongoing problem. In 1994-95, 43% of the isolates of one strain (H3N2) were dissimilar to the vaccine strains while 87% of the H1N1 strain did not match. And worldwide in 1995, a full 76% of the circulating influenza type B strains were not covered by the vaccine. And again in 1992-93, 84% of the circulating flu samples were different strains than the ones included in the vaccine.
In addition, in February 2008, some research showed that about 5% of the circulating flu bugs were resistant to the common anti-viral medication Tamiflu. Other estimates were even more pessimistic, though. According to the NY Times, in a January 2008 article, statistics showed that in 2007 11% of throat swabs sent to the CDC were resistant to Tamiflu but those numbers rose to 99% in 2008!
- Most Flu Bugs Don’t Match Flu Vaccine
- Influenza Vaccine: Review of Effectiveness of the U.S. Immunization Program, and Policy Considerations
- Major Flu Strain Found Resistant to Leading Drug, Puzzling Scientists
- Flu Vaccine Facts
What to do:
Whether or not to be vaccinated is a complicated topic, one that we do not have enough room here to discuss. Vaccines have potential impacts on the development of your immune system, your ability to eliminate properly, and your toxic load. So, each patient should ask his/her doctor about the role of vaccines in an overall health plan. The conversation should address your age, other health concerns or diagnoses, and your complete medical history.
But, in the absence of vaccinations, there are many other things to do during flu season to ensure that you are not out of commission for many weeks with the virus. First and foremost, continue with your basic treatment guidelines. The castor oil packs, water, probiotics, time outside, breathing, exercise, routine, good sleep, and diet are essential to optimal immune health.
Good hygiene is, of course, the number one line of defense. Wash your hands well and frequently as most often people pass the flu this way. In addition, a good dose of flu etiquette will go a long way. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough (ideally, you would sneeze or cough into your elbow crease so that the germs do not land on your hands). Do not share eating utensils or beverage cups. Dispose of tissues quickly and in an air-tight bag kept far from food items. And JUST STAY HOME. You need the rest and the public, your coworkers, or your children’s classmates will thank you for it.
In addition, you can take mucococcinum throughout the flu season to help prevent onset of illness. The package contains 10 tabs that dissolve under your tongue. For prevention, take one tab every two weeks. If you start to get symptoms, start to take three tabs per day to treat the flu.
Stay warm when the weather turns cold. It is especially important to wear something to cover your neck. If you are not into turtlenecks, wear a scarf every day. In Chinese medicine, the “wind gates” are located at the back of your neck. And, infectious diseases like the flu are often attributed to a “wind invasion.” So, keep those wind gates closed so as not to let the wind invade you.
Last, but not least, remember your hydrotherapy. Warming socks at the first sign of the flu can be your saving grace. Or ending your morning showers with a cold spray as a routine will keep your immune system primed for whatever comes its way. You can also use the neti pot for clearing out your sinuses, warming throat compresses for a sore throat, a wet t-shirt to decongest the lungs, or steam inhalation with essential oils to get some antimicrobial action down deep.
We hope you found this information helpful. We strive to help our patients find a healthy way in the world. If you have topics you’d like us to address in future issues please let us know. We are always available for questions and comments.
The Physicians of Bambú Clinic