Watching the news these days you’ve probably seen that the flu has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and its territories. Those of you who are history buffs may know that this type of event has occurred before on a much larger scale, 100 years ago, when a Spanish flu of pandemic proportions traveled worldwide.
What causes influenza to be so strong some years? Most epidemics and pandemics have come from a virus that has mutated so that the virus is new to most people. If a person has been exposed to a similar virus in their lifetime, they will have some immunity. Mutations of viruses can be too unfamiliar for the immune system to manage easily, leading to more people getting the flu, getting sicker and even dying.
In past years, the flu has most harshly hit the very young and elderly, but this year higher incident has been in baby boomers, leaving scientists searching for answers. One theory as to this change in population is because baby boomers may not have the immunity that their elders have from being exposed to this type of flu in their childhoods. Another theory is that fewer people are getting vaccinated. What is known is that the 2017-2018 vaccine focuses on three main flu strains, showing effectiveness against H1N1 and an influenza B strain, but less effective against the H3N2 strain which tends to be the most virulent.
The report from CDC.gov on flu activity the third week of January 2018 shows widespread flu activity in every state and territory except for Guam, where activity is slightly less. Hawaii shows local flu activity and had a minor bump up in flu numbers over the December and January holidays.
Patients have been asking how to stay well and avoid the flu. For those who have been well until now and want to stay that way, practice all forms preventative medicine. See the “Dr. Is In” column in the December 2016 issue for more details at www.westhawaiitoday.com/2016/12/30/north-hawaii-news/the-dr-is-in-5/.
For those who vaccinate, it is not too late to do so, but keep in mind that it will take about two weeks for vaccines to convert antibodies within your immune system.
For those who are sick and seeking ways to get well faster, it is very important to take extremely good care of yourself. The list below is for suggestion only. If you have any other conditions or illnesses, please consult your health care provider for the right combinations and dosages for you.
Prescriptions for antivirals are available from your doctor, although they only work when taken within two days of the first symptom. Nutrient and herbal supplementation in the form of vitamins A, C, D and E, as well as zinc, astragalus, sambucus nigra (black elderberry), goldenseal, echinacea or garlic can help support the immune system.
Prebiotics (fermented foods) and probiotics can be helpful, as the immune system interacts closely with the gut according to researchers at Johns Hopkins. Warm salt water gargles can soothe sore throats, thin mucous and reduce inflammation. Bromelain or N-acetylcysteine are also options to thin mucous. Epsom salt baths can help to ease aching joints and muscles.
Coughs are important in bringing up phlegm, but when a respite from the cough is needed to sleep or rest, mullein, slippery elm, or red cherry bark can be used to soothe and quiet coughs. Don’t forget a good serving of chicken, vegetable or miso soup can help you stay hydrated as well as give you a dose of TLC.
Let’s be honest, it does feel good to be taken care of when you are sick.