Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., N.D.
Wellness Forum Health
It’s flu season, and this year a particularly awful flu virus is causing a lot of misery. In spite of the usual aggressive and misleading annual campaign to promote the flu vaccine, a lot of people are still getting the flu. The reason, according to health authorities, is that the vaccine is not as effective as it has been in previous years. Americans are being told that the efficacy rate is only about 33%, but the Australian government estimates that the efficacy rate is as low as 10%.[i]
The problem is not limited to this year’s vaccine. Studies show that the vaccine has never been effective in any age group for any year. Last year, this newsletter featured an extensive 2-part article which documented the history of the vaccine, along with efficacy rates. I won’t reprint that article here, but it is posted in the Health Briefs Online Library if you want additional information about this issue.
Yet Authorities Are Still Pushing the Vaccine
While acknowledging that the vaccine is useless this year, Americans are being told that they should still be vaccinated, arguing that some immunity is better than no immunity. “Some immunity” is a term that can mean different things to different people. A 10% chance of benefitting from the vaccine does not sound like “some immunity” to me – it sounds like all side effects and not much benefit.
What Is The Risk of Developing The Flu?
As part of the annual sales campaign to sell flu shots, health authorities lead both doctors and the public to believe that there is an extremely high risk of getting the flu, and that historically the vaccine has been very effective in preventing both flu and deaths from it. However, a 2010 Cochrane meta-analysis showed that in years during which the vaccine was deemed “effective,” the risk of getting the flu was 3.9% in unvaccinated people and 1.2% in vaccinated people.[ii] In other words, 96.1% of Americans will not get the flu if left alone, and the vaccine reduces the risk by only 2.7%.
The risk of getting the flu is very low, and the efficacy of the vaccine is low, yet people are instructed to have a vaccine that contains ingredients like monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed porcine gelatin, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, formaldehyde, and Madin Darby Canine Kidney cell protein; and can cause side effects that include Guillain-Barre syndrome, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, transverse myelitis, shingles (herpes zoster), neuropathic demyelination, seizures, neuropathy, brachial plexopathy, rheumatoid arthritis, optic neuritis, and Bell’s palsy.[iii]
Studies looking at efficacy rates for other years in which the vaccine was deemed “ineffective” showed that the risk of getting the flu was 2.4% in unvaccinated people, meaning 97.6% of the people will not get the flu. For vaccinated people the risk decreased to 1.1%, a whopping 1.3% reduction, in return for which people are exposed to the risk of side effects listed above. It’s just difficult to understand how intelligent people can work so hard to sell a product with such a poor risk/benefit ratio.
Drugs For Treatment of Flu
The same people and organizations that are giving you inaccurate information about flu vaccines provide equally bad information about what to do if you get the flu, including the recommendation to take Tamiflu, an antiviral drug. But this drug, and another one called Relenza, have both been shown to be ineffective for reducing symptoms or the risk of serious complications or death from flu. A Cochrane Review reported that the there was no evidence that Tamiflu reduced transmission of the virus, even though the World Health Organization claims that it did. The reviewers also found that studies reporting benefit were flawed and relied on self-reported data that was not verified. Additionally, the drug reduced the onset of some symptoms by only a few hours, and did not reduce the risk of serious complications or death. Tamiflu can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, renal disease, and increases the risk of psychiatric issues such as delirium, hallucinations, and psychosis.[iv] In spite of its poor risk/benefit ratio, Tamiflu is expensive, costing about $154 for a prescription
Antibiotics are often prescribed by doctors, but flu is caused by a virus, and antibiotics are not effective for treatment of flu, or even for preventing bacterial infections in patients with flu.
The bottom line is that flu vaccines and drugs like Tamiflu or antibiotics are not likely to help you much.
Rest and Fever
Even healthy people can develop the flu – I’ve had it a couple of times myself during the last 20 years or so. People with strong immune systems generally recover quickly, within a few days. Those with weaker immune systems may be sick a little longer. Symptoms include fever, aches and pains in joints and muscles, headache, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.
The most important thing to do when you have the flu is rest. Most people who have the flu don’t feel like doing much anyway, but some overachievers think that they can tough it out and go to work and maintain their regular schedules. Even if you can do this, it’s a bad idea; bodies heal faster when they get more rest. In fact, that’s why sick people are usually tired – this is nature’s way of telling them to rest and sleep.
Many people think that lowering fever speeds healing but the opposite is true. The purpose of fever is to promote healing. Fevers boost the activity of leukocytes, macrophages, and T-lymphocytes, all of which help to fight infection. Increased body temperatures also can reduce or stop the replication of viruses; most stop replicating when body temperature reaches 100.4-105.8 degrees. Therefore lowering body temperature can actually prolong illness by allowing viruses to continue to replicate.
Studies have shown that there are risks associated with fever-lowering drugs such as aspirin, Tylenol, and NSAIDS, including increased risk of bleeding, liver damage, and increased risk of atrial fibrillation and cancer (see previous articles in the Health Briefs Online Library). While these risks might be worthwhile if the drugs helped to reduce symptoms or duration of illness, research shows that taking aspirin, Tylenol and ibuprofen can increases both severity and duration of nasal symptoms in adults with colds.[v]
What drives most people to take drugs to lower fever is the incorrect idea that the cause of unpleasant symptoms is the fever, and that they will feel better and recover faster by lowering it. But there are no randomized controlled studies that have measured whether or not lowering a fever makes anyone feel better and to what degree one can expect to experience improvement in symptoms.
On the other hand, some studies show that people with fevers fare better than those without. For example, one study showed that pneumonia patients with higher body temperatures and higher leukocyte counts had a mortality rate of 4%, while those with no fever and lower cell counts had a 29% mortality rate. And studies have shown that higher temperatures are beneficial for healing injuries due to trauma; for recovery from infectious diseases like chickenpox, and many other conditions.
Sneezing, Coughing and Sore Throat
One of the ways in which the flu virus makes you miserable is by latching on to the mucous membranes in the nasal passages and respiratory tract, causing symptoms such as a runny nose. Sneezing and coughing are the body’s way of purging the debris from damaged cells and membranes, so taking over-the-counter drugs that suppress cough or dry out the sinuses is not helpful. Taking these medications can actually prolong your bout of flu.
A more productive strategy is paying attention to hydration, and more water than usual may be required due to fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. Avoid beverages that have a diuretic effect like coffee, tea, colas, and other caffeine-containing drinks. Drinking fluids will reduce your discomfort, help to move waste out of the body, and in some studies has been shown to relieve headache[vi] and may improve immune function.[vii] When the body is dehydrated, histamine production increases, which leads to increased mucus production and congestion.[viii] To reduce mucus production and congestion, flu patients should drink more water. Juices and vegetable broth are usually well tolerated and sometimes smoothies are helpful because they are cold and feel cooling to a person with fever.
For sore throat, licorice tea with honey is very soothing. One study showed that an herbal tea made with licorice root, elm bark, marshmallow root and Throat Coat (a brand of tea that contains licorice root) relieved acute pharyngitis.[ix] Lozenges containing licorice or slippery elm can help to relieve cough. For those who do not like licorice, tea made with peppermint and cloves is also helpful.
Salt is a natural antihistamine and can relieve respiratory symptoms without drying out mucus membranes. Dissolving salt crystals in the mouth and/or eating salted food usually reduces symptoms. Halotherapy, another form of salt therapy, has been used for hundreds of years, and first became popular in 1843 when Felix Boczkowski noticed that Polish salt miners had a very low incidence of respiratory infections and disorders.[x] The Russians were the first to develop salt caves for the purpose of therapy to relieve symptoms, and salt caves were first built in the U.S. in the 1990’s.
Salt rooms, which are sometimes called salt caves, are warm and slightly humid. Dry sodium chloride particles are infused into the air which helps patients with breathing problems. While there have been no studies on the effect of Halotherapy on flu patients, the practice has been shown to be effective for other conditions involving breathing difficulties and runny nose[xi] [xii] [xiii] [xiv] and a Cochrane review reported that salt aerosol therapy was effective for relief of asthma.[xv] Salt rooms have become very popular and are easy to find in major cities. If you do not have access to a salt room, salt lamps are a good second choice.
Saunas and steam rooms can also relieve symptoms and speed healing. In fact, Hippocrates once said, “Give me a fever and I can cure anything.” One reason is that heat, particularly from steam rooms, improves sinus drainage.[xvi]
Sambucol is an over-the-counter product made from standardized black elderberry extract. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial patients with flu taking Samucol recovered an average of four days sooner than controls, and also took less medication.[xvii] Oregano oil[xviii] olive leaf extract[xix] have also been found to have antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.
The risk of developing flu is low, and you can reduce your risk even more by adopting an optimal diet, staying hydrated, exercising, and staying lean. The flu vaccine efficacy rate is low, even for the general public, which is comprised mostly of people who do not practice optimal habits. This means that the already low efficacy rate shown in studies is even lower for those take good care of themselves.
Even healthy people get the flu, and it is best to avoid drugs unless absolutely necessary. Rest, fluids, and alternative therapies, along with time for healing, are effective for most people.
[i] Paulos C, Sullivan S, Subbarao K, Fauci A. “Chasing Seasonal Influenza – The Need for a Universal Influenza Vaccine.” NEJM 2018 Jan;378:7-9
[ii] Jefferson T, Di Pietrantonj C, Rivetti A, Bawazeer G, Al-Ansary LA, Ferroni E. “Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults.” Cochrane Database 2010 Jul DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001269.pub4
[iv] Jefferson T, Jones M, Doshi P, Spencer E, Onakpoya I, Heneghan C. “Oseltamivir for influenza in adults and children: systematic review of clinical study reports and summary of regulatory comments.” BMJ 2014;348:g2545
[v] Greisman L, Mackowiak P. “Fever: beneficial and detrimental effects of antipyretics.” Curr Opin Infect Dis 2002 Jun;15(3):241-245
[vi] Popkin B, D’Anci K, Rosenberg I. “Water, Hydration and Health.” Nutr Rev 2010 Aug;68(8):439-458
[vii] Ohira Y, Girandola RN, Simpson DR, Ikawa S. “Responses of leukocytes and other hematologic parameters to thermal dehydration.” J Appl Physiol Respir Environ Exerc Physiol 1981 Jan;50(1):38-40
[viii] Kjaer A, Larsen J, Knigge U, Warberg J. “Dehydration stimulates hypothalamic gene expression of histamine synthesis enzyme: importance for neuroendocrine regulation of vasopressin and oxytocin secretion.” Endocrinol 1995;136(5):2189-2197
[ix] Herbal tea helps reduce the pain of acute pharyngitis.” BMJ 2003:327:0-e
[xi] Chervinskaya A, Zilber N. “Halotherapy for treatment of respiratory disorders.” J Aerosol Med 1995 Fall;8(3):221-232
[xii] Chervinskaya A. “Halotherapy of respiratory diseases.” Physiotherapy, Balneology and Rehabilitation. 2003;6:8–15.
[xiii] Bar-Yoseph R, Kugelman N, Livnat G et al. “Halotherapy as asthma treatment in children: A randomized, controlled, prospective pilot study.”
Pediatric Pulmonology 2016 Oct 10.1002/ppul.23621
[xiv] Lazarescu H, Simionca I, Hoteteu M et al. “Surveys on therapeutic effects of „halotherapy chamber with artificial salt-mine environment” on patients with certain chronic allergenic respiratory pathologies and infectious-inflammatory pathologies.” J Med Life. 2014 b; 7(2):83-87.
[xv] Beamon S, Falkenbach A, Fainburg G, Linde K. Speleotherapy for asthma (Review). The Cochrane Library 2006;3:1-9.
[xvi] “Treating chronic sinusitis.” Informed Health Online Feb 25 2018 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072668/
[xvii] Zakay-Rones Z, Wollan TE, Wadstein J. “Randomized study of the efficacy and safety of oral elderberry extract in the treatment of influenza A and B virus infections.” J Int Med Res Mar-Apr;32(2):132-140
[xviii] Baser KH. “Biological and pharmacological activities of carvacrol and carvacrol-bearing essential oils.” Curr Pharm Des 2008;14(29):3106-3119
[xix] Omar SH. “Oleuropein in Olive and its Pharmacological Effects.” Sci Pharm 2010 Apr-Jun;78(2):133-154