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The Flu: Questions and Answers

by Dr. Maura Henninger

Many of you have asked me about the current season of the flu. I always encourage you to get educated so you can make smart, informed decisions about your health. But confusion and misinformation about the flu abounds.

What exactly is the flu, how long does it last and how is it spread?

What is the flu vaccine and does it work? Should I get vaccinated and should I vaccinate my kids?

What can I do to help myself stay healthy right now?

For these and other questions, I have answers.

The basics about the influenza virus

How it’s caused: The flu is caused by a virus, which causes rapid onset of symptoms: fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, dry cough, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, and runny nose are common. Because the flu is a virus, antibiotics are not effective. Secondary infections that are bacterial can often occur including pneumonia. It can worsen underlying diseases such as heart failure, diabetes, COPD, and asthma.

How it’s spread: The flu spreads from respiratory droplets by sneezing, shaking hands, etc. That is why covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing helps reduce transmission. Washing hands regularly can reduce transmission for this reason as well. People with the flu are contagious one day before and up to seven days after symptoms begin.

How common it is: Influenza and pneumonia are classified as the leading cause of infectious disease death in the United States. Each year 5-20% of the population suffers from the flu or flu-like symptoms. CDC reports that 200,000 people are hospitalized each year and 36,000 will pass away from complications and flu related causes.

Veracity of flu death reporting: The aforementioned figures are debated and the numbers may be grossly overestimated. “Are US flu death figures more PR than science?” was the recent headline of an article in the prestigious British Medical Journal. The Huffington Post also reported: “The CDC’s decision to play up flu deaths dates back a decade, when it realized the public wasn’t following its advice on the flu vaccine.”
In other words, because of a perceived rate of low vaccine use, our public health leaders may be promoting fear and offering up misleading information in attempts to increase flu vaccine compliance.

The flu vaccine: separating fact from fiction

The influenza vaccine is created based on the predicted viral types for later in the year. This hit-or-miss approach is a guessing game that contributes to the variability of the benefit of the vaccine. The question of whether the immune system will be stimulated against the correct viral pathogen isn’t known until it is too late: the vaccine has already been produced. The journal Eurosurveillance found that this year’s vaccine is only 10% effective against this year’s strain of flu, the H3N2.

Research on the influence of vaccination from 1980 (when widespread vaccination developed) until 2004 found that the vaccine was not responsible for the declining mortality of the flu in any age group. Furthermore the benefits from smaller observational studies substantially overestimate benefit.
Studies have also established other concerns about the flu vaccine, which include:

1. Increases risk of miscarriage in pregnant women.
2. Vaccine carrier mercury is highly neurotoxic to developing fetuses.
3. Mercury is also immunosuppresive.
4. In people who receive the flu vaccine year after year, a distinct drop in effectiveness is seen and they actually become MORE susceptible to the flu virus.
5. Children who receive the flu vaccine are hospitalized at a rate of 3x those who are not, especially those you are asthmatic.
6. Children who received the flu vaccine had higher rates of other respiratory illness.
7. Flu vaccine does not prevent pneumonia in the elderly and its benefits in this population have been grossly overestimated.

The Cochrane Database (the gold standard of evidence-based medicine) stated in 2010:
“Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission. And this conclusion cautions that even these benefits may be overstated as they come from industry funded studies.

Naturopathic flu prevention
So what to do? The best defense, is a good offense. And by offense I mean prevention. Many of you have heard me talk about the terrain. Our bodies are like ecosystems: the stronger they are, the less susceptible they will be to pathogens that cause disease. The idea is to create such strong and effective immunity, viruses don’t stand a chance. You might still get sick, but the illness will be short-lived and only mildly disruptive.
My tips for a bolstered immune system:

1. Sleep at least 7.5 hours per night.
2. Exercise regularly, particularly aerobically.
3. Don’t eat much sugar, which is immunosuppressive; I include alcohol in that.
4. Manage your stress; high cortisol is also destructive to the immune system.
5. Eat the right foods for your body.
6. Keep your vitamin D levels optimal;
7. Gut health: 85% of our immune system resides in our gut. Take probiotics. If you’re experiencing gastrointestinal issues; this means you’re way more susceptible to illness like flu.
8. Do some old-school hydrotherapy and end showers with a cold spray. If you can last a minute or two, you can reduce colds and flus by 50%.
9. Stay hydrated. Drinking half your body weight in ounces of water will better equip your immune system for virus eradication.
10. Take immune-boosting herbs. My favorite formula is Super Bio Vegetarian by Priority One, which has herbs like goldenseal and barberry, a high vitamin content an an array of medicinal mushrooms.

Despite doing everything perfectly, you might still get sick. It happens, and if it does, don’t hesitate to get in touch so we can talk about natural ways to quickly pull through the flu.

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