Seasonal influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is caused by influenza viruses that infect the respiratory tract (notably, the nose, throat, and lungs). The US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that the seasonal flu affects an average 5% to 20% of the total US population each year, with over 200,000 people hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications.
Not only potentially deadly, influenza compromises health, leaving people more susceptible to pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus difficulties.
On average, seasonal flu outbreaks cost U.S. employers $10.4 billion in direct costs of hospitalization and outpatient visits, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That doesn’t include the indirect costs related to lost productivity and worker absenteeism.
The A4M shares tips for sensible prevention and symptom relief. Dr. Ronald Klatz, MD, DO, A4M co-founder and President, comments that: “In its commitment to public information and consumer outreach, the A4M shares personal protection guidance that may help reduce your risks of succumbing to a highly infectious disease that not only compromises quality of life, but quite possibly how long you live.”
Flu Vaccine Promises & Pitfalls
There are three types of influenza viruses, designated types A, B, and C. Influenza virus A is a genus of a family of viruses called Orthomyxoviridae in virus classification. Influenza virus A has only one species in it; that species is called “Influenza A virus”. Influenza A virus is subdivided into subtypes based on hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) protein spikes from the central virus core. There are 16 H types, each with up to 9 N subtypes, yielding a potential for 144 different H and N combinations.
The US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention purports that the best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. . Traditional flu vaccines (called trivalent vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. In addition, there are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.
However, a newer discovery challenges this guidance. On 21 October 2014, Wistar Institute (Philadelphia, PA USA) scientists reported that middle-aged adults were more susceptible to seasonal flu in the 2013-2014 season, due to a newly identified mutation in recent H1N1 strains that allows viruses to avoid antibody responses. Specifically, they found that 42% of individuals born between 1965 and 1979 possess antibodies that recognize the region of hemagglutinin (H) glycoprotein that is now mutated. The study team urges that the surveillance community may need to change how they choose viral strains that go into seasonal influenza vaccines. [“Middle-Aged Adults Were More Susceptible to the Flu Last Year because of a New Viral Mutation, Say Wistar Scientists,” http://wistar.org/news-and-media/press-releases/middle-aged-adults-were-more-susceptible-the-flu-last-year-because-new]
With regard to the 2008-2009 seasonal flu vaccine and that year’s H1N1 pandemic, Canadian researchers published study data, involving over 2,700 people, that found overall the likelihood of needing medical attention for pandemic flu was 1.4 to 2.5 times greater among people who received the flu vaccine during the previous fall season. [Skowronski DM, De Serres G, Crowcroft NS, et al. Association between the 2008–09 seasonal influenza vaccine and pandemic H1N1 illness during spring–summer 2009: four observational studies from Canada. PLoS Med 2010 Apr 6;7(4) Viboud C, Simonsen L. Does seasonal influenza vaccination increase the risk of illness with the 2009 A/H1N1 pandemic virus? PLoS Med 2010 Apr 6;7(4).]
Moreover, people who got the flu last year (or were vaccinated then) do not necessarily have immunity against the flu this year. Several studies conducted over different flu seasons and involving different influenza viruses and types of flu vaccine have shown that a person’s protective antibody against influenza viruses declines over the course of a year after vaccination and infection, particularly in the elderly. So, a flu shot given during one season, or an infection acquired during one season, may not provide adequate protection through later seasons. The decline in protective antibody against the flu that occurs after vaccination or after flu infection may be influenced by several factors, including a person’s age, the antigen used in the vaccine, and the person’s health situation (for example, chronic health conditions that weaken the immune system may have an impact). This decline in protective antibody has the potential to leave some people more vulnerable to infection, illness and possibly serious complications from the same influenza viruses a year after being vaccinated or infected.
Sensible Prevention of The Flu
A highly contagious viral respiratory infection of the upper respiratory tract, influenza can be spread widely and wildly due to the fact that it can be transmitted from person-to-person by coughs and sneezes.
People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet [1.8 meters] away. It is estimated that a single sneeze can project up to 4,500 viral droplets, moving at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. We’ve all experienced the zealous sneezer,” whose droplets can be showered far beyond 6 feet [1.8 meters].
Table 1 shares good hygiene habits that are of the utmost importance in reducing one’s risk of contracting the flu.
Table 1. Good Hygiene Habits
|1. Avoid close contact.
|Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When greeting people, do not shake hands, instead do the fist bump or tip your hat.
|2. Cover your mouth and nose.
|Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Cough “Dracula style” into your shirt sleeve.
|3. Clean your hands.
|Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
|4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
|Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Wear heavy-duty work or garden gloves that remind you not to touch your face, and bleach them daily to remove pathogens.
|5. Cleanliness is key.
|Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.
|6. Follow the tenets of anti-aging medicine.
|Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. Doing so may help to prevent others from catching the flu from you. Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. In other words, you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
Natural Relief of Seasonal Flu
Antibiotics are useless against all illnesses that are viral in nature, including influenza.
Treatment is largely limited to alleviation of symptoms, with generally helpful measures such as:
- Relieve nasal congestion: Use saline (salt water) drops, 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 quart of water
- Relieve chest congestion: Inhale steam from a pan of boiled water for 15 minutes every 2-4 hours; or take a long hot shower
- Relieving sore throat: In 8-ounces (236 mL) of warm water, dissolve 2 aspirin tablets (325 mg each) and 1 teaspoon (5 ccs) of salt. Gargle for 5 minutes and spit it out (do not drink it).
- Mobilize lung secretions: Use an ultrasonic, cool-mist humidifier and drink warm teas and water.
- Cough up mucous secretions: Splint ribs with a towel, then lean over the toilet with your head-down; cough to release excess mucous secretions from your nose and mouth.
- Fever management: Check with your doctor as to whether or not to inhibit a fever of less than 103.5 degrees.
- Get plenty of bedrest to minimize aches and pains.
- Stay hydrated: Drink 8 ounces (236 mL) of water every hour while awake (more if you have a fever), in which you have added 2 tablespoons (30 ccs) of freshly squeezed lemon juice (for added flavonoids and to help alkalinize the body).
- Avoid sugary fruits (oranges and bananas) and carbohydrate-laden grains and pastas, which are foods that viruses feed on to survive.
- Consider natural antiviral compounds: See Table 2 for the Top Five Flu Fighters.
Table 2. Top Flu Fighters
|Vitamin C (1000-6000 mg/day) is purported to shorten the duration of colds and flu, and help fight secondary bacterial infections that can accompany a cold. Linus Pauling took upwards of 12,000 mg of vitamin C daily (more if he felt a cold coming on). Research by Braun et al revealed that 67% of those surveyed believed that taking supplementary vitamin C helped to reduce cold symptoms. Vitamin C may also reduce the symptoms and duration of infection of other viruses such as mumps, herpes, measles and the flu.
|Vitamin D is a potent immune system modulator. Research has shown that the vitamin D receptor is expressed by most cells of the immune system, including T-cells (white blood cells that are crucial to the immune system) white blood cell crucial to the immune system) and antigen-presenting cells (cells that present foreign substances capable of eliciting an immune response, such as bacteria, to the immune system), such as dendritic cells (specialized cells that present antigens (foreign substances) to specific cells of the immune system) and macrophages (a type of white blood cell that protects the body against infection.) Vitamin D has also been linked with infectious diseases, such as influenza, as statistics show that epidemics tend to occur during the fall and winter – the same time at which vitamin D levels plummet. Several animal studies support the theory that vitamin D prevents the flu.
|Selenium is a potent antioxidant. Ryan-Harshman and AldooriIt write that selenium may be of benefit to people whose oxidative stress loads are high, such as those with inflammatory or infectious diseases including the flu.
|Green tea polyphenols are also known to stimulate the production of several immune system cells, as well as possess antibacterial properties. Drinking green tea may also be a key flu-fighting strategy. Research has shown that drinking green tea stimulates gamma-delta T-cells that boost immunity against viruses. Furthermore, a substance in green tea called L-theanine causes T cells to secrete 10-times their normal output of the virus-fighting interferon.
|Glutathione is a tripeptide composed of the three amino acids glycine, glutamic acid (glutamate), and cysteine. Glutathione has been called the “master antioxidant.” In addition to its own potent antioxidant powers glutathione helps to recycle other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Results of several studies suggest that glutathione has antiviral properties. Research has shown that glutathione inhibits activation and replication of the influenza virus. Scientists from Emory University reported at the Experimental Biology 2000 meeting in San Diego that glutathione could help prevent infection by the influenza virus if administered directly to the tissues lining the mouth and upper airway. The scientists suggested that glutathione concentrated in a lozenge or spray might be the most effective way to use the compound as a flu preventive.
|Probiotics are dietary supplements that contain live microorganisms, which colonize the intestines and help to prevent intestinal infections. Lactic acid bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, are the most commonly used “friendly” strains of bacteria used in probiotic products. Probiotics may help to boost the immune system. Results of a study by Sheih et al led the authors to conclude:” [Lactobacillus acidophilus] appears to enhance systemic cellular immune responses and may be useful as a dietary supplement to boost natural immunity.” Research also suggests that probiotics may offer some protection against the common cold. Berggren et al enrolled 272 men and women in a 12 week long study, during which subjects were supplemented daily with supplemented either with 1 x 10(9) cfu of probiotics or placebo. Results showed that the probiotics reduced the incidence of one or more episodes of the common cold. Among those who received the probiotics, both the total symptom score and number of symptom days were significantly less than in those receiving the placebo. The researchers concluded: “Intake of the probiotic strains Lactobacillus plantarum and Lactobacillus paracasei reduces the risk of acquiring common cold infections.”
|For centuries, the elderberry has been used to treat colds and flu. Scientists believe that antioxidant flavonoids found in the elderberry fight viral infection. Elderberry is most commonly used to treat the runny nose and sore throat of the common cold and to help to reduce the fever, muscle pain, and other symptoms of the flu.
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