The New Flu Scare: What to Do?

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

It seems that every year around this time the news is abuzz about a
new and frightening flu that is making the rounds. We have been
receiving a lot of calls and questions about what to do to prevent or
treat this year’s flu strains. Depending on who you ask, there is
dramatically different advice on what to do about the flu.

Influenza, or flu for short, is a variety of ever evolving viruses
that differ from year to year. It can typically cause a number of
uncomfortable, or sometimes even life-threatening symptoms. Symptoms
can include: sinus congestion, runny nose, cough, fever/chills,
headaches, body aches, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Each virus
behaves a little differently than the next, causing a different
profile of symptoms. Symptoms also vary from person to person, even
with the same flu virus. Influenza viruses are different than the
viruses that cause the common cold, typically involving more
symptoms. They generally spread through aerosols, or droplets in the
air that are the result of coughing or sneezing, but they can also be
spread by contacting a contaminated surface.

So how do you prevent catching the flu virus, or what do you do if
you have been exposed? This is a topic of great debate. The yearly
flu shot is often recommended by MD’s and the media, and is often
available in a wide variety of settings including the doctor’s
office, certain retail stores or some work places. It is especially
recommended for people with a higher likelihood of exposure, such as
health care workers, teachers, or people who deal alot with the
public. It is also recommended for the elderly and very young, or
those with a compromised immune system.

There is some belief in the world of natural healing that the flu
vaccine is not the best way to prevent or treat influenza. The flu
vaccine is typically a collection of 3 strains of the influenza virus
that are a best guess at the dominate strains of the current flu
season. However, since the flu is a virus that is constantly
mutating, sometimes the flu strains that are used in the vaccine are
not the viruses that are actually the trouble makers of the flu
season. Sometimes even when the vaccine contains the correct
strains, people still contract the flu. This points to the fact that
up to 40% of people who receive the vaccine still contract the flu.
There is also some concern that the preservative used in some
vaccines can lead to health problems.

If you don’t want to get the flu vaccine, there are some ways to
minimize your risk of catching the flu virus, or if you do contract
the virus to minimize its impact on your health. Frequent hand
washing is very helpful to avoid catching the flu, or many other
illnesses. Besides washing your hands, one of the most helpful
things that you can do is to cultivate a healthy immune system. Some
documented ways that you can improve your immune response are:
supplements such as vitamin C, D, and A; minerals such as zinc;
herbs such as astragalus, echinecea, or medicinal mushrooms.
Acupuncture, massage or skin exfoliation can also be quite helpful
for the immune system. It is also important to minimize things which
can compromise your immune functions such as: sugar and phlegm
producing foods such as dairy and gluten. It is also recommended to
get regular exercise, plenty of sleep and to drink lots of water.
Some people believe that it is actually a good thing to get an
occasional flu virus, as it gives your immune system a workout that
helps to keep it strong, much like exercising keeps your body
stronger.

I think that there is a case to make for both receiving the vaccine
and for avoiding the vaccine. Ann and I choose not to be vaccinated,
and generally stay quite well by living a healthy lifestyle.
However, we both caught a severe case of the swine flu a couple years
ago that was very humbling. At the time there was no vaccine
available that would have guarded us against that particular flu.
The general flu vaccine available then would not have been helpful
for our illness.

Whatever you choose to do, it is important to live a healthy
lifestyle to minimize the complications or severity of any illness
that you contract. The flu shot alone, without any other effort will
likely not keep you healthy. Staying healthy requires an ongoing
balanced effort. Just as is true for so many things in life, keeping
to the middleway is most effective way to maintain health and
balance.

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