The media is a powerful tool with influence over great masses of people. The Swine Flu scare is a perfect example of hype and misinformation. There is only one perspective made available in the mainstream media, one of fear and alarmism. When it comes to health information sometimes one must dig to get both sides of the issue.
To my suprise I didn't have to dig very deep to find a reliable source for the actual statistics of this disease: the CDC.
The good news
The CDC website claims that there is an increase in ILI or "influenza-like illness" for this time of year characterized by classic influenza symptoms: fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, body aches and sometimes vomiting. Hospital rates are higher for this time of year but lower than during a seasonal influenza outbreak. A very interesting statistic is the number of deaths from influenza and pneumonia are "low and within the bounds of what is expected for this time of year." This is significant because this time of year is not one where we typically see influenza - so if the deaths are low to normal while H1N1 is spreading, that is encouraging and reflective of a milder illness than we have been fearing.
More good news: H1N1 is proving to be sensitive to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir. You may find it reassuring that if you or a family member becomes very ill with Swine Flu, these conventional medications are available to thwart the progression of the virus. It is important, however, that one not use these medications unless very ill, as resistant strains of the virus can develop if antivirals are overused.
The bad news is that the the rates of infection continue to rise as this is a very contagious illness. The other bad news is the hype is causing people to unnecessarily visit emergency rooms with mild illness, creating the need for temporary tents to handle the increased demand for care and to keep the infected away from those with more serious health problems for whom H1N1 could be disastrous: the immune compromised, those with asthma and heart conditions, the very old and the very young.
The CDC states the following guidelines for when to seek medical care:
"A person should seek medical care if they experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or if a fever continues more than three days. For parents with a young child who is ill, seek medical care if a child has fast or labored breathing, continuing fever or convulsions (seizures)." The CDC also states: "supportive care at home, such as resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and using a pain reliever for aches - is adequate for recovery in most cases."
This disease is proving mild enough that the vaccine is not necessary and could have long-term effects much worse than the temporary inconvenience of the illness. It is important to keep in mind that the H1N1 vaccine is still experimental and short and long-term risks have not yet been identified. H1N1 vaccine trials began August '09 and will continue for 13 months. In 1976 during the last Swine Flu outbreak, 43 million people were vaccinated with a then still experimental vaccine. In addition to the outbreak never really materializing (the illness did not spread beyond 240 soldiers at Fort Dix, NJ), 500 Americans came down with a rare neurodegenerative condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome which many experts believe was linked to the vaccine. Twenty-five of those 500 died. In addition some experts believe that "Gulf War Syndrome" is related to the antibody reaction to the adjuvant "squalene" in the then still experimental Anthrax Vaccine. This has been a hotly debated topic over the years especially since soldiers who never saw combat also had symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome.
The Seattle Times reported 10/1/09 that the State of Washington's Health Dept has temporarily suspended the FDA rule that limits the amount of mercury preservative Thimerosol given to pregnant women and children under the age of 3. The stated reason for the additional mercury is to kill bacteria that could be be present on the needle when it is introduced to withdraw the medication. We do not have good studies that explore the effects of thimerosol on pregnant women and young children as these are populations excluded from vaccine trials.
As well there is a laundry list of additional potential ingredients including preservatives, antibiotics and additional viruses. The vaccine for the swine flu trials contains MF59, or "squalene", an adjuvant (substance added to a vaccine to improve the immune response so less vaccine is needed) that is not FDA approved. This ingredient is not listed in the ingredients list of the swine flu vaccine available to the public, therefore the vaccines used in the trials and the vaccines for the public are different. Changing the ingredients from trial to mass production is a common practice in vaccine development. The public will be unwilling members of an experimental drug trial by receiving the vaccine.
There is recent information from Canadian scientists indicating that those who received the regular flu shot last flu season are twice as likely to contract the swine flu this season. This is considered controversial information as the data has not been officially published and is being debated by the experts. I do feel that it is significant information however and should be factored into the decision to vaccinate or not.
More Good News: Natural Treatment and Prevention
1) Probiotics (good "gut bugs") - are an effective way to reduce the effects of illness in children. A recent study published in the Journal Pediatrics revealed that daily dietary probiotic supplementation is effective in warding off colds and flu. In the study the children aged 3-5 who received probiotic therapy had 50-70% fewer colds and flu compared to the control group who did not receive any probiotic therapy. This is a very significant finding as up until now the only natural agents that I have known to be proven to shorten the duration of viruses are Vitamin C, Zinc and Elderberry. There is now good data to show that probiotics prevent AND shorten the duration of illness. Yee Haw! One per day for adults and children.
2) Vitamin D3 - almost two-thirds of the children who have died of the Swine Flu have had epilepsy, cerebral palsy, or other neurodevelopmental conditions like mental retardation. What these conditions have in common is that they are all associated with Vitamin D deficiency. There is a great story on the Vitamin D Council website of a residential care facility in Wisconsin which treats with and regularly monitors the vit. D levels of its residents. Recently the Swine Flu hit their area very hard and only 2 of 275 residents contracted it, while 103 staff members whose vitamin D levels were not monitored and treated did contract the disease. It is important to remember that the active form of Vitamin D is "D3 or Cholecalciferol" - D2 is not as biologically available and may not convert to the active form of Vit. D in the tissues.
Dr Waddell of the Vitamin D Council suggests 1,000 IU Vitamin D3 per 25 lbs of body weight as a maintenance dose. It is important to monitor serum levels of Vitamin D3 to make sure that they are at optimal levels.
3) Elderberry Extract - Long-used as an immunity enhancer, we now know that it also prevents viral replication by smoothing down the spikes (hemagluttinin) on the surface of a virus used to puncture through healthy cell walls. A product called DART Immunity Take Care by New Chapter/New Mark is something that my patients and family have benefitted from for a couple years now. It is your own personal anti-viral in a delicious, berry flavored tablet. Most kids are happy to chew them and one/day is all it takes when you are feeling ill or have been exposed to a virus. A must for every home medicine cabinet. Take one lozenge when you have been exposed to a virus or someone in your home is ill.
4) Vitamin C and Zinc - These two time honored immune soldiers don't get enough appreciation. Both have been shown to shorten the duration of common colds and viruses by boosting natural immunity. Vit. C also acts as a natural antihistamine that helps dry up watery eyes and reduce nasal and chest congestion. It is also a powerful antioxidant that can help prevent and clean-up the damage that a body endures when fighting viruses and bacteria. Vitamin C, with bioflavonoids: 1,000 mg every few hours throughout the day, up to bowel tolerance. (Vit C can cause loose stools, so reduce amount as necessary).
Zinc lozenges, preferably with 3 mg copper, every few hours, up to 70 mg daily during a cold and 30 mg daily as a preventive.
Children: under 25 lbs take ¼ of adult dose, 25 – 50 lbs take 1/3 of adult dose.
5) Homeopathic Remedies - Homeopathy is a deep-acting and profound system of medicine that is based on the Law of Similars that has been in use for over 200 years. Homeopathic remedies do not treat the disease directly but stimulate the body to re-balance and heal itself. See separate posting on homeopathic remedies for colds and flu.
6) Oscillococcinum – Studies have shown that this combination homeopathic preparation is effective against the very first signs of flu. To be taken as soon as chills, fever, aches, etc start. Found in health food stores. Follow the directions on the box. Completely non-toxic and safe for kids.
The Take Home
The H1N1 flu, or "Swine Flu" - is a virus. It is a new one, so in addition to the "flu" virus that goes around every year (Influenza B) we now have another one to contend with (Influenza A). The good news is that most health authorities, including the CDC, agree that it is "mild" and in most cases even milder than the annual flu that we hide from every year. Prevention is the best medicine, so by boosting your vitamin D levels, taking probiotics regularly, and stocking up on natural remedies such as DART immune, vitamin C, Zinc and homeopathic remedies you and your family can breathe a sigh of relief that you are taking steps that can increase your family's chances of staying healthy. Good old fashioned hand-washing is also a very effective way to prevent spread. I have my children wash their hands as soon as they come home from school every day, and take a probiotic...