This year’s flu season was fully active by December 24, 2016 and each week has shown an increase in its spread. The most frequent strain of this year’s flu virus is a type A virus called “H3N2”, which creates two problems. First, it is the H3 virus that causes the more severe disease than most other flu strains. It has already killed two children. Second, the H3 virus is also more resistant to the flu shot, if you have already had received the flu shot. So, prevention and treatment is especially important this year.
This year’s flu shot contains 3 strains of the A virus: one strain from Hong Kong, one strain from Brisbane, and one strain from California. The flu shot also contains one B virus. However, of the 3 A strains, only one strain is H3. Each year, the flu shot is a bit of a crap shoot. The CDC guesses, creates a combination, and hopes for something close to a match. If you are staying in the US, and if you are living in the east, south, or west (the hardest hit areas), our flu season typically reaches its peak in January, February, and March. To protect yourself, you can receive a flu shot every six months, although most people try to get the flu shot annually.
Flu vaccines should be received in October / November, giving the person sufficient time to develop immunity. If a flu shot is taken now, it takes 2 weeks to develop some immunity. Since the flu season is at least 12 weeks long, since we are approaching week #4-5, and since this year’s virus is more resistant to flu vaccines, most people have missed their best window for a flu vaccine. In addition, the flu vaccine’s degree of protection is variable, cutting your chances of getting the flu between 33-61% in any given year.
However, there are still advantages to getting a flu shot, even in January. If you do not get the flu within the first two weeks of the flu shot, the shot will decrease the severity of the flu, even (to some extent) with this year’s H3 virus strain. More importantly, the flu shot helps reduce the contagious spread of the disease. So, most physicians encourage the flu shot at any time. Just do not forget there are some risks with the flu vaccine, especially with people who have egg allergies.
The virus for the flu enters your body in one of three areas: your mouth, your nose, or your eyes. The virus originates in birds; it is spread to animals (usually chicken, pigs, or horses); and then finally it is transmitted to humans. For human to human transmission, it is usually a sneeze or a cough that sends droplets into the air. But it can also be spread simply by talking. The transmission range is about six feet. What is your best protection? Washing your hands – and trying to not touch your hands to your face during any flu outbreak.
In addition, remember that the key to prevention against the flu is the strength of your immune system. A high functioning immune system is far more valuable than any flu shot. So, how well you eat, exercise, sleep, and maintain your health during the holiday season is the primary marker for decreasing your risk of developing the flu. If you already have the flu, that should tell you that you need to better protect yourself during the next holiday season in late 2017.
This year’s flu has been hitting hard, causing more severe symptoms of cough, sore throat, fever, muscle aches, headaches, and significant fatigue, plus some nausea and vomiting in adults. This year’s flu has been problematic for everyone, but the individuals who are most at risk are the young and old. The young, especially those younger than 6 months, have not yet developed a strong enough immune system; and the elderly often have complicating diseases, which impair their immune system.
You should not underestimate the seriousness of each flu season. Just remember the worst flu epidemics in the last 100 years. That was the Spanish influenza in 1918, killing 20-100 million people. There was the Asian influenza of 1958, killing up to 2 million people. There was also the Hong Kong influenza of 1968, killing close to 1 million people. In most years, the deaths are much less, often around 50,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations. If you count mild symptoms of the flu, those numbers expand with around 20% of our population impacted to some degree.
People with the flu tend to make other miscalculations. One mistake is very commonplace. Many adults think they can “work” through the flu, thereby infecting their cohorts. People who stay home are the wisest and most considerate. There’s another common mistake. People wait too long to start antiviral medication, like Tamiflu or Relenzo, which should be started within the first 48 hours of the flu). Those medications may not cure the flu, but they will reduce the severity and length of the illness.
There’s been one surprise for this year’s flu season. For the very first time, we had a person catch the flu from a cat. That person was a veterinarian who worked in a New York animal shelter. But if your pet becomes sick (birds have also been known to transmit the flu), you might want to get your pet evaluated and treated. As we move into the era of the “super bug”, your best path is prevention. Problematic viral infections can lead to those even more problematic bacterial infections.
Each year the flu originates in the eastern part or the southeastern part of Asia. 85% of that region has tropical or subtropical temperatures, allowing the virus a chance to mutate all year long. With people traveling more and more, and with Asia rising in prominence, the transmissions to America are becoming more intense; and in recent years, more and more of the flu seasons can be attributed to H3, the worst of the viruses. So, as the world shrinks and we become more of that global village, our need to be prepared and protected will grow with each coming decade.
So, what is your best treatment for the flu? First, take the antiviral medication and the prescribed cough medication. The over-the-counter medications have limited efficacy. With the flu, you must treat yourself as best as possible. Hydrate yourself with plenty of fluids, including water and juices. Coffee and alcohol both dehydrate you. Rest is crucial. Your body fights the virus best while you sleep. If possible, stay at home for at least several days, if not for a week. A warmer room than normal helps. A humidifier also helps.
Those recommendations for treatment do not sound like much, do they? They’re not. Which is why everyone hates getting the flu. There is no fast or easy treatment. Which is why you need to maintain your highest immune system, especially in early January. That is especially true with anyone with a chronic illness. That is also especially true if you are pregnant. You need a steady supply of nutrients, not calories. Mostly plant-based. Plus daily vitamins, antioxidants, probiotics, etc. You already know the suggestions from previous blogs for the healthiest diet.
Give all of these approaches a try …
And decrease your risk of getting the flu …