©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
“I ache so badly I can hardly move,” Jed moaned.
Julee sniffed. Of all the nerve, she thought to herself. What makes him think he has an edge on feeling miserable? Females have a lower pain threshold so I’m sure I must feel worse than he does! She took a deep breath, which triggered another coughing spell.
“Stay home from work to avoid exposing others to the virus,” the doctor had warned. “Expect fever, chills, a bad cough, and joint pain. There’s no magic cure! Get plenty of bed rest, drink plenty of fluids, and dig up lots of patience.”
Digging up patience was becoming a problem. Fortunately, Julee recalled reading an article by Dr. Joyce Brothers, who had written that males may actually suffer more from being ill with the flu. So instead of making a rather pointed comment, Julee replied, “It’s the pits, isn’t it? Maybe we’ll both feel better tomorrow.” Jed’s response was another groan. Indeed, they were a pitiful pair!
The flu, also known as influenza, is as predictable as the rain in Spain or the sun in Palm Desert. It will likely be a long time before the flu season becomes a relic of the past. There may be no place on the planet that is completely free of this scourge. Flu viruses move around the world in a pattern that is very similar to that of migrating birds. In fact, wild birds such as ducks, geese, and seagulls may transport the virus from place to place even though the birds themselves do not become sick. The bug surfaces about the same time every winter season, usually in December. It will repeat a similar pattern when the winter season arrives in the southern hemisphere.
Flu-like illnesses have been recorded and reported since the 15th century. By 1933, scientists had determined that influenza was caused by some of the fastest changing viruses in the world—they may be able to mutate every 12 months or more frequently. That’s why last year's vaccine doesn’t protect against this year's virus. According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, getting a “flu immunization” every year is their number one prevention strategy. Studies in the laboratory setting have shown some “cross-over” effects—even if the strain of flu you catch was not in that year’s vaccine you are more likely to develop a milder case and avoid serious complications.
One in five Americans can expect to become infected with the influenza virus when the flu season arrives each year. [And no one knows how many may become infected with strains such as H5N1 (avian) flu or 2009 H1N1 (swine) flu.] More than two thirds of those who become infected will get sick; a quarter of a million of them will be hospitalized, and nearly 50,000 will die. In fact, estimates are that 1 in every 10,000 Americans alive today won’t be by the end of the flu season! The annual cost of this sixth leading cause of death in the USA is estimated to be in the range of ten billion dollars.
Specialists say it's only a matter of time before the next epidemic strikes, when larger numbers of people than usual succumb to illness. Pandemics are global events in which the majority of individuals worldwide are at risk for infection and illness. Unlike the gradual changes that occur in the influenza viruses that appear each year during flu season, a pandemic influenza virus changes its structure in a way that increases its ability to cause illness in a large percentage of the population.
Three influenza pandemics occurred during the 20th century:
- 1918 - Spanish flu pandemic, which caused illness in roughly 20 to 40 percent of the world's population and resulted in more than 50 million deaths worldwide. Between September 1918 and April 1919, approximately 675,000 deaths from Spanish flu occurred in the United States alone. Concern is rising that a virus, very similar in construction to the organism identified with the 1918 flu pandemic, may be making a comeback.
- 1968 - the Hong Kong Flu outbreak, which resulted in nearly 34,000 deaths in the United States
- 1957 - the Asian flu pandemic, which resulted in about 70,000 deaths
According to the World Health Organization, this planet can expect a pandemic three or four times in every 100 years. For some time there has been concern that the H5N1 (avian) flu might be “the one.” More recently there is concern that the 2009 H1N1 (swine) flu may be “the one.” Sooner or later there will be “one” that triggers a real pandemic. We are due!
You can become infected with the flu by coming in contact with the virus from a person who is ill with influenza. The virus can be spread when a sick person coughs, sneezes, breathes or talks out the virus and you inhale it into your mouth or nose. Since the flu virus can live up to 48 hours on a surface, you can also become infected by getting the virus on your hands and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
Exposure to the virus is not necessarily a mandate for illness. Your risk of developing symptoms of illness (dis-ease of the immune system) is impacted by a number of factors, many of them related to the health of your immune system. There are strategies you can implement to help you beat the odds.
Here are a few suggestions to consider:
- Minimize your exposure to the virus by limiting your contact with individuals who are sick. Whenever possible, avoid large indoor gatherings where the chance of coming in contact with the flu virus is highest. Epidemiologists once traced an outbreak of the flu to one airline passenger. The recirculated cabin air evidently carried the flu virus throughout the plane and three quarters of the other passengers came down with the flu. It’s inevitable, some say with a sigh. Not necessarily. Remember, one fourth of the travelers avoided becoming ill! If you plan to take a plane trip during flu season, you may want to carry face masks.
- Practice good hand hygiene. Remember Mother’s instructions from childhood? Wash your hands after using the toilet, before eating, and whenever your hands are dirty. Even if your hands don’t appear to be soiled, wash or use hand-wash gel/wipes after handling objects or surfaces that many people touch (e.g., public telephones, stair or escalator railings, shopping carts, counters in stores). You may want to follow the example of some Asian cultures and “nod” politely to others rather than shaking hands.
- Avoid touching your face, and keep your fingers and pens, pencils, paperclips, or other objects out of your mouth. Use your own drinking straws, beverage glasses, and eating utensils. In other words, this is no time to share! The goal is to reduce the numbers of viruses that might otherwise find their way into your body.
- Develop good health habits and live a high-level-wellness lifestyle. For example:
- Obtain sufficient amounts of sleep for your brain and body
- Drink plenty of pure water, minimizing the use of soft drinks/high-sugar drinks and avoiding all “diet” beverages
- Take time for play, relaxation, and activities that create a sense of “awe” within your brain and spirit
- Obtain regular physical exercise—it is good for your brain as well as for your immune system. Incidentally, people who run more than sixty miles a week are twice as likely to get the flu as those who run less than twenty miles a week so make informed choices.
- Maintain a positive mind-set. Smile and laugh many times a day. Connect regularly with your own personal support system (for some that will include trust in a Higher Power).
- Eat nutritious foods. Avoid refined sugars, candy, and syrups¾anti-immunity substances. Not only can they accelerate the aging process, but they can also significantly reduce the ability of your white blood cells to fight against invading organisms. Choose complex carbohydrates (e.g., brown rice instead of white rice, whole grain breads/cereals instead of white bread/sugared cereals) whenever possible. Minimize your use of artificial sweeteners.
- Consult your healthcare practitioner and carefully evaluate the efficacy of taking a flu vaccine, especially if you are in one of the high-risk groups. Remember, “the flu” doesn’t kill you, per se; “complications” from the flu, can. This may be especially true if you have a chronic illness/disease or other underlying health challenge. Some believe that the flu-vaccine injection is even safer than the live-virus nasal vaccine.
- Consider adding nutritional products to your daily regimen. My personal favorites (delta-E and EnerPrime from IMPaX World Inc) contain green superfoods, micronutrients, antioxidants and other ingredients that can help to support both the brain and immune system. In combination with my high-level-wellness lifestyle, I am depending on these nutritional products to give my immune system that needed edge to help me stay well.
Will implementing these strategies guarantee that you’ll never succumb to the flu again? Probably not! But you could increase your chances for remaining healthy. And if you did become infected, you might experience a lighter case, avoid some nasty complications, and recover more quickly. You have nothing to lose—except maybe the flu!