The flu has a rich and deadly history in the U.S. As many as 40 million people succumbed to the Spanish flu in 1918 and 1919, including 650,000 Americans. The strain began in Europe and was brought back to the U.S. by soldiers who caught it while fighting trench warfare in WWI. It was such a deadly superbug that some people died within hours of contracting the illness.
The Asian flu became a pandemic in 1957. This strain was more deadly to pregnant women and those with rheumatic fever histories. Thanks to scientific advances, a vaccine was developed and quickly made available to prevent a more deadly outbreak.
Did you know that more than 200 viruses can present as influenza-like illnesses? They all can give you a scratchy throat, fever, headache and runny nose, as well as fatigue, aches and malaise.
But getting sick doesn’t have to be inevitable. As we head deeper into winter, let’s take a look at the best ways to protect yourself from cold and flu season.
The flu vaccine was about 36% effective for last year’s strains. That’s actually a very good statistic. But the elderly did not fare as well. The simple fact is a senior’s immune system is not as responsive to illness as a younger person’s.
In 2016, there were 2,905 deaths from the flu in the U.S. That is 0.1% of the total deaths in 2016. Statistically, flu and pneumonia deaths are often lumped together because the flu can quickly turn into pneumonia. This can turn deadly if the virus leads to a secondary bacterial infection. Total deaths from pneumonia in 2016 were 48,632.
It is difficult to choose which strains to include in vaccines. The decision has to be made six months in advance of the flu season, and viruses often mutate. It’s not hard to see why the efficacy is more than likely to be poor. Mathematically, the deck is stacked against a vaccine’s success rate.
I have reservations about handing out flu vaccines like candy to the general population. For one thing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) owns between 25 and 50 vaccine patents. So they profit from whatever vaccines they recommend. (If that’s not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is…)
Further, if someone experiences complications from a vaccine and wants to sue for injury, liability has been totally shifted away from the manufacturer. This burden now rests on the shoulders of the American taxpayer through the Federal Vaccine Compensation Fund.
And finally… why do some vaccines still have thiomersal (mercury) in them? Back in 1999, the CDC recommended removing it from all vaccines. Yet it has not been enforced.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t still get a flu shot. (That’s a personal decision that only you can make.) But I think it’s only fair that you understand the sordid history surrounding what’s widely considered an essential yearly vaccination.
The good news? Whatever you decide, there are some simple ways you can protect yourself before and during flu season.
Anecdotally, I never developed the flu during my decades of practicing medicine, despite caring for thousands of patients with viral infections. Over my 30-year career, I received two flu shots. But more importantly… I have always applied the following strategies to help ward off early viral attacks.
- Talk to your doctor about whether you need the vaccine. If they recommend it, then make sure to get the single dose vaccine, not the multiple dose vaccine, which contains thiomersal. Insist on seeing the vaccine to verify it is single dose. (FluMist – a nasal spray vaccine – was off the market for years because it wasn’t effective. Now it is back with no proven track record. I’d pass on it.)
- Take 3,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D-3 at night daily. Also get your vitamin D level checked. You need it to be in the rabge of 50 to 80 nanograms per milliliter for optimal results. If you feel any signs of illness, you can increase it to 25,000 IU for three days ONLY.
- Take 25 to 50 milligrams of zinc each morning. This will boost your immune system and help fight off any sickness.
- Take 1 to 2 grams of vitamin C per day. If you feel an illness coming on, bump it up to 1 gram per hour for six hours (if you get diarrhea, stop) and repeat for several days.
- Fend off sinus congestion, early illness or sore throat by spraying two to three squirts of olive leaf nasal spray into each nostril or your throat every hour for four hours and then three times per day for several days.
The best defense against the flu is a strong offense. Take care of yourself with these tips and be sure to drink plenty of water and get plenty of rest. And, as always, talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.
Hoping you avoid any illnesses this season.
To optimal aging,
Phil Roberts, MD