This season, we find ourselves flooded with public health messages about flu prevention, which includes injecting ourselves with both the seasonal and swine flu vaccines. While no one wants to catch the flu, many of us question the safety of these vaccines and wonder whether a responsible choice for ourselves and our families includes receiving the vaccines, or refusing them.
The mainstream medical paradigm encourages prevention by focusing on controlling the virus, rather than by supporting the person who might contract the virus. Medical systems such as Naturopathic Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Homeopathy, encourage prevention by ensuring a balanced immune system that won’t under- or over-react to a virus. This provides you with broad protection against viruses and the bacteria responsible for many complications from the flu.
The swine flu is very virulent, meaning that it is can be transmitted easily from person to person. However, it is considered to be less deadly than most flu viruses. This may be partly because of the other unusual quality of H1N1: it tends to affect healthy people age 5 to 24 who presumably are less likely to develop complications from the flu. Two main theories may explain this strange age-related phenomenon and provide essential clues for best prevention practices.
The principle theory suggests that younger people are more likely to develop symptoms of the H1N1 flu because their immune system overreacts to the virus and creates a “cytokine storm”, which causes more damage than the virus itself. In this case, flu prevention requires that a person balances the immune system, rather than stimulates it, so that complications are less likely to occur. If you use herbs to combat the flu virus, please choose your herbs carefully.
The second theory is that the virus isn’t attacking young people per se, but that older people are responding less to the virus because they already carry some natural immunity. The 2009 H1N1 virus may be related to the original 1918 Spanish Flu H1N1 virus, which affected the human population most strongly before 1956. People who were exposed to H1N1 before 1956 may carry some natural immunity against the 2009 version.
To control the spread of H1N1, Canada entered into a $400 million dollar contract with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to provide Canadians with an H1N1 flu vaccine. This vaccine also contains an adjuvant (known as AS03 in the Canadian vaccines), that increases your body’s immune response to the inactivated virus. Preliminary results by GSK suggest 100% immunity to the virus within 3 weeks of receiving the flu shot.
Though the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that there are no significant safety concerns regarding these adjuvants, Health Canada and the US Food and Drug Administration have not yet approved them. Governments are fast-tracking these approvals to beat the flu wave and many research bodies caution against their approval under these strict timelines. The vaccine is a cause for concern for the following reasons:
Ongoing unpublished research in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, suggests that people who received the seasonal flu vaccine last year may have an increased chance of catching the swine flu this season.
The oil component of the adjuvant called squalene is linked to a rare but serious autoimmune disease called Guillain Barre Syndrome, and a condition known as Gulf War Syndrome that developed in soldiers who received experimental anthrax vaccines. Some authors go so far as to link slow, progressive neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s with chronic, squalene-induced brain inflammation. Furthermore, the potential interaction between squalene and thimerosol, a mercury preservative in these vaccines, has not been adequately studied. Thimerosol is also linked to the development of some neurological disorders, (though much current research suggests otherwise).
Finally, the strict vaccination schedule intended to minimize the impact of a flu pandemic might in-fact worsen the situation by encouraging development of vaccine-resistant viruses. Anti-viral drug-resistant strains of H1N1 have already been identified.
Regardless of whether you decide to receive the vaccine, the benefits of a more balanced, capable immune system are incontrovertible. Here are some ways you can help to protect yourself and your family during this flu season:
Good hygiene practices: H1N1 can infect a person for 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic, and for a few minutes after being deposited on soft surfaces. Be sure to wash your hands frequently, cough and sneeze into your elbow or a handkerchief, clean surfaces with your usual disinfectant, and stay home if you feel ill and have a fever.
Make healthier dietary choices: Avoid sugar and refined grains, such as bread and baked goods, which can inhibit the immune system. Replace pro-inflammatory red meats and dairy with anti-inflammatory “good” omega-3 fats, available in fish or in a high-quality fish oil supplement. Eat 6 servings of colourful vegetables daily, and eat plenty of fresh garlic, which has potent anti-viral properties.
Keep mucous membranes moist by using a humidifier and keeping up water intake, (generally 35mL of water for each kg of body weight). This will help prevent the virus from latching on, and keep the immune cells in that part of your body healthy. Also, avoid alcohol and coffee which can be dehydrating.
Don’t underestimate the impact of stress and lack of sleep! Much evidence demonstrates how these situations inhibit optimal immune function.
Finally, prevent infection by keeping your immune system balanced with supplements, including 2000 to 4000 IU vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), vitamin C with flavonoids, and a high-quality probiotic (such as Genestra’s HMF forte). Most people with hectic lifestyles in our northern climate will benefit from these nutrients. A qualified health practitioner may further prescribe an individualized botanical combination or homeopathic medicine that helps to balance rather than stimulate your immune system.
The above suggestions may work in lieu of, or in conjunction with the vaccines, should you choose to receive them. However, please consider that the complex healing mechanisms of your body are possibly more capable of managing a novel virus than a novel man-made pharmaceutical.