Greta Cobar

Swine Flu: Nothing To Sneeze At

By Greta Cobar

Flu season is in full bloom, but most of us are still pondering about what to do.  The dilemmas surround not only the regular flu shot, but also the swine flu shot; not only seeing the doctor or sitting at home, but also taking Echinacea or antibiotics.

It’s funny how sophisticated we are and how intelligent we think of ourselves, and yet a virus, something that can only be seen with an electron microscope and is seen by many as too under-developed to even be considered a form of life, can cause so much pandemonium.

The flu is caused by viruses.  Because viruses are really tiny and under-developed, they can’t survive on their own.  What they do is invade our cells, make us sick for a few days, and provide us with life-long immunity against all identical viruses.

Meaning that once you get sick with a virus, you are pretty much protected from ever getting sick with that same virus again.  That is why you only got chicken pox one time.  And also, if you didn’t get it, you are still at risk.

As nasty as flu viruses can get, it’s nice to know that we can only get them one time.  However, the bad news is that a different flu virus comes around every year, and so that is why we pretty much get the flu once a year.

The flu shot promises to prevent it by providing that same immunity that comes after having been sick.  It puts into your body an inactive version of the virus that it is supposed to prevent.  That way the virus cannot make you sick.  However, almost more often than not the flu virus doesn’t work.

Why is it that the concept of vaccine goes back all the way to BC, but modern medicine still cannot get the simple flu shot right?  Well, what happens is the flu shot has to start being manufactured early in the summer, while the flu virus doesn’t come around till mid or late fall.

And because a different flu virus comes around every year, they don’t know in June which flu virus will come around in October.  They decide which virus to put in the vaccine based on an educated guess, known as a hypothesis.  It’s almost no wonder that they got it more wrong than right.

While some of us might choose not to take the vaccine because of its questionable efficacy, others are afraid that the flu shot will make them sick with the flu.  Ironically enough, the side-effects of the flu shot are extremely similar to the flu itself: runny nose, congestion, sore throat, fever, cough.

This year, because swine flu (or H1N1) is considered more deadly than the usual flu, some groups of people were urged to get vaccinated.  However, more than half of all adult Americans didn’t want to get the swine flu vaccine, with possibly dangerous side-effects being the main reason.

Swine flu came around for the first recorded time in 1918, when it killed 500,000 people in the US alone.  Then in 1976, at the military base Fort Dix, in New Jersey, 14 people became sick with swine flu and one person died.  Because of memories from 1918, the government immediately launched a major vaccination campaign that immunized 45 million people in 10 weeks.  However, the magnitude of the epidemic was extremely over-inflated, as nobody besides that one soldier at Fort Dix ever died.  On the other hand, 25 people ended up dead and about 500 paralyzed because of the swine flu vaccine of 1976.

And that is why most people are afraid of it today.

As far as the virus is concerned, today’s swine flu appears to be more serious than it was in 1976, but less than it was in 1918.  So far, it is estimated that about 4000 people died of swine flu in the US in 2009, and the virus is thought to have reached its peak and be on the decline.

Overall, swine flu is similar to the seasonal flu as far as symptoms are concerned:  fever, cough, muscle aches.  What is different, however, is that swine flu is far more likely to cause severe illness in young, healthy people.

While vaccines were urged for swine flu prevention, Tamiflu was prescribed to blunt symptoms.  However, Tamiflu cannot cure the flu.  The only thing it can do is reduce symptom severity and duration of illness by about one day if taken within the first day or two of getting sick.  Bad deal.  And on top of it not being much help, its use was discouraged in people with only mild symptoms because of unpleasant side-effects present in a significant minority of the people who take it.  So it looks like Tamiflu could actually make you feel worst instead of better.

When it comes to over-the-counter pain killers such as Tylenol, Aspirin Cold and Flu or Advil, they won’t help either.  All they’ll do is numb your nerves to ease the symptoms.  That’s why they’re called “pain killers,” but they are not able to prevent or cure anything.  It is always better to find the cause of the problem and eliminate it than it is to mask the symptoms with pain-killers.  Although they may make you feel better for the time being, they will not help cure your illness.

And don’t forget about side-effects.  For example, Tylenol is the number one cause of acute liver failure in the US, and about 100 people die of unintentional Tylenol overdose every year.  Just because anybody can buy it just about everywhere, does not make it safe.

Another thing that many people run after are antibiotics, which are only available with a prescription.  Even though it is a known, undisputed fact that antibiotics do not work against the flu, doctors still prescribe them because they have nothing else to hand out to patients desperate for a miracle pill.  If the doctor were to send you home and tell you the truth, which is that there is no cure for the common flu, that you have to stay home and relax, he would probably have one less patient.

We live in a pill-addicted society and we expect to be cured without having to take the time out to stay home and rest a little.  Most people can’t even afford to take time off, mainly out of fear of losing their jobs.

As innocent as a useless antibiotic prescription might seem, it can actually make us unable to treat diseases that we could easily get rid of just a few years ago.  Over-using antibiotics, such as taking them when we don’t need them (example: for the flu) creates bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.  This means that the antibiotic cannot kill the bacteria anymore.

And this is important because half of all antibiotic prescriptions in the United States are not necessary.  And also because now, for the first time in 50 years, bacterial infections can kill us as our antibiotics are becoming useless.

Remember that every time you take a pill, someone is making money off of it.

It used to be that celebrities died from illegal drug overdoses, but now they’re dying off prescription drugs instead.  Yes, your doctor is your new drug dealer.

So instead of flocking to your doctor’s office, where you are pretty much guaranteed exposure to nothing but germs off the other patients and side-effects off the medication, fight the power of advertisement by choosing to take no pharmaceuticals.

A better way to prevent and cure the flu is to keep your body strong and healthy.  The better shape your body is in, the least likely you are to get sick.  So make sure you get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, eat fruits and vegetables, exercise and relax.  You can also wash your hands and all that, but the flu virus is airborne, which means that you can get it just by breathing.

Well, if you are feeling unwell with the flu, the best things to do are stay home, rest and drink lots of liquids.  Although many will swear either by chicken soup, orange juice, vitamin D, Zinc or Echinacea, none of those will be as good as rest and liquids.  Your body has to fight off the virus, and rest and liquids are its best helpers.

So be brave enough to fight the flu on your own, with whatever you think works for you (your beliefs can also help or hurt you).  My friend swears by garlic and oranges, and I am sure those work for him.  My mom advocates hot baths in salt.  I like Emergen-C, that fuzzy stuff with electrolytes.  So follow your heart and your mind more than your doctor.

Categories: Greta Cobar, Health Care