Influenza is an illness that gets a lot of media attention in our day. As autumn winds down and winter approaches, the “cold and flu” season is upon us. Every year we are reminded that vaccinations are available and highly recommended for the elderly and those in the “at risk” population. In this article, I would like to discuss what we know about influenza, and what the story is behind all the hoopla about the vaccine. Should we be concerned about this illness? Yes. Should we panic? No, I don’t think that’s necessary. Let’s take a look at the facts.
What is Influenza?
Influenza, or the flu as it is commonly called, is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. It is highly infectious, and is caused by a variety of strains of the influenza virus. Its victims suffer symptoms that are similar to those of the common cold, but often more intense. Influenza is generally categorized into three types: Types A, B, and C. Type A is the most versatile, as it can infect humans and animals such as birds, pigs, and horses. The other two can only infect humans, but Type A is responsible for the majority of flu cases. While the flu at times can be widespread, it is often given credit for things it may not be responsible for. For example, the term “stomach flu” is often heard. The truth is that influenza is primarily a respiratory illness, and very rarely does it attack the gastrointestinal system. Such attacks are usually due to bacteria such as E-coli, salmonella, or shigella. Precautions should be taken to avoid possible complications to the flu, which include pneumonia and other respiratory diseases as well as heart conditions and any chronic illness.
Part of the reason the flu is so feared by some, is the history of the illness, and the deadly impact it has had on the world’s population in times past. Even today, it is estimated that 20,000 Americans die per year from the flu and its related complications. Most of these fatalities are elderly folks and people who have compromised immune systems. Flu epidemics have swept the world from time to time, and some of them have been very lethal. In 1918 and 1919, the Spanish flu killed an astounding 20-40 million worldwide. Approximately half a million of those deaths were here in the United States. The most recent outbreaks of any significance were the Asian flu in 1957 (70,000 deaths in the U.S.) and the Hong Kong flu in 1968 (34,000 deaths in the U.S.). Influenza is referenced in history all the way back to the ancient Greeks. The flu was attributed to bacteria and “bad air.” They weren’t too far off considering their limited medical knowledge. The identification of influenza as a viral infection was not until 1933.
What Are the Symptoms and Causes of the Flu?
The effects of the flu often hit hard and fast. Commonly the illness will start out with a headache, dry cough, chills, body aches, and then a fever of up to 104 degrees F. After the fever peaks, a sore throat and congestion often comes on. Severe fatigue is typical, and it may linger for days or weeks. That’s pretty much it for the flu itself. Most other symptoms are attributable to secondary infections that often are bacterial in nature and focus on the lower respiratory tract. Just when you catch your breath from the first attack of the flu itself, here comes another truck to hit you. The secondary infections often come with a high fever, chills, difficult and painful breathing, and a phlegmy cough that produces thick yellow-green sputum. (Not a pretty picture, is it?).
Diagnosis is mostly a non-issue with influenza. When you get walloped with the flu you usually know what hit you. The intensity and fast onset of the symptoms give it away. There are tests that your doctor can prescribe to identify the viral strain that is responsible, but this is not usually done. Diagnosis is rather determined by symptoms and what is going on in the community at the time. More commonly, a sputum sample will be taken if a patient develops a secondary infection, often to find out if it is bacterial. These can be treated with antibiotics, but be careful there. Antibiotics are terribly over-prescribed, and many times immunities will be built up to them so that they cease to be effective. Save the antibiotics weapon for when you really need it.
What Treatments Are Available For the Flu?
Basically, the flu, like any viral infection, must run its course. There is no cure. So, the goal of any therapy is to manage the symptoms and keep potentially serious complications at bay. There are medications that have been approved for use to fight the virus (amantadine-hydrochloride, and rimantadine-hydrochloride), but these are relatively new, and there are some serious side effects associated with them. These include seizures, delirium, and hallucinations. Be very careful of these drugs if you are prone to seizures, have any psychiatric disorders, or kidney problems.
Speaking of being careful, what about the flu vaccine? Is the risk (and there are risks) worth the potential benefit? The influenza vaccine and vaccines in general are very controversial. Many of them contain mercury and other toxic substances, they leave a residue in the body that can come back to haunt a person many years later. The immediate reaction that many have to the vaccines can be quite severe, and some studies have shown that vaccines can lead to such conditions as autism and ADHD sometimes years down the road. The media and government are constantly pushing for these vaccines and others, so resistance to them is not very popular or politically correct. And, incidentally, small fortunes are being made by the drug companies that manufacture them so there is also a lot of money at stake as well. This is not a formula for high integrity in my opinion. There is enough doubt about the safety of these vaccines in my mind to warrant not getting them. Would I say that no one should get vaccinated? That is a personal decision that each of us must make, and I would like to see it stay that way. However, there is a movement in this country to take the right of health decisions away from the individual and put it into the hands of the government. I personally do not want to lose my freedom of choice when it comes to health decisions, and I certainly don’t trust Uncle Sam and Big Pharma to make those decisions for me.
What Natural Remedies Are Available to Fight the Flu?
Yes, there are many excellent options. The best course of action is to use therapies that will relieve symptoms and boost the immune system to avoid complications.
- Drink lots of fluids, clean fresh water being the best choice. Herbal teas and diluted fruit juices are good as well. Fluids are extremely important for several reasons. First they keep the respiratory tract moist, which makes it harder for viruses to do their dirty work. Secondly, fluids stimulate the white blood cells and make them more effective.
- Eat small amounts of highly nutritious foods, such as fruits and vegetables
- Good ole’ chicken soup will help. Not only will this comfort food be tasty (if you can taste anything), but loaded up with garlic, onions, ginger, and cayenne pepper, it will have healing properties too. It’ll fight congestion and boost the immune system.
- Get plenty of rest. The more you rest, the faster you will heal.
- A vaporizer with a natural herbal mixture of eucalyptus or menthol will help congestion and may make it easier to sleep. Relieves coughs too.
- There are many helpful herbal strategies:
- Astragalus: immune system booster, helps the body deal with stress
- Elder: antiviral, anti-inflammatory, stimulates sweating, helps runny noses
- Forsythia: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, fever reducer
- Ginger: pain and fever reducer, cough suppressant, settles the stomach, helps with sleep
- Grape seed extract: antihistamine and anti-inflammatory
- Boneset infusion: pain and fever reducer
- Honeysuckle: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, fever reducer
- Echinacea: This one does it all! Lessens: sore throat, fatigue, chills, sweating, body aches, and headaches.
- Slippery elm: good for sore throats and coughs
- Schisandra: boosts immune system, builds endurance.
- Yarrow: reduces chills
- Cordyceps: aids respiration, boosts immune system
- Zinc: immune system booster, helps with many symptoms of respiratory illnesses. Great for colds too. Take some zinc if you feel one coming on.
- Anise seed: helps with nausea, gas, encourages sweating, helps expectorate phlegm
- Goldenseal: fever reducer, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory
- Lomatium: aids in quick recovery from flu. Native Americans often use this for respiratory illnesses
- Licorice: anti-viral properties
- Reishi mushroom: excellent booster for the body while under stress
- Vitamin C: great for lessening symptoms and duration of flu and related illnesses. Vitamin C is great to take along with other supplements, as it characteristically works as a catalyst to help other remedies
- Garlic: antiviral and antibiotic properties, has killed flu viruses in laboratory tests. Also immune booster
- Vitamin A: helps mucous membranes to stay healthy
- Beta Carotene: found in yellow vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, and carrots. The body converts this substance into Vitamin A
- Tea tree oil: great for sore throats, acts as antibiotic
- Ginseng: immune system booster
- Wild indigo: immune system booster
- Chickweed, ginkgo biloba, mullein, lobelia, black radish: all of these herbs have shown promise in helping to relieve various symptoms related to lung illnesses.
Many of the remedies mentioned in this article are also great at preventing the onset of flu, respiratory infections, or any immune system related disorder. As with most health issues, prevention through a healthy diet, exercise, and common sense is far more effective than anything that can be done once an illness has set in. We as Americans can have a great impact on our personal and national health by simply choosing to pursue wellness proactively. Health should be and can be the norm, and not the exception.