Flu Season Is Upon Us!

Flu Season Is Upon Us!

Flu season in upon us and it is anticipated to be a bad one!
Per CNN Health News: “Last year’s seasonal flu vaccine effectiveness was just 42%, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated. Even if vaccinated, people had inadequate protection against the flu”.

Interestingly, the efficacy of the flu vaccine varies year to year since it is formulated with a mix of viral particle strains based on anticipated predominant flu virus strains that are expected to circulate for that year. The 2015-16 efficacy was 47% but the 2014-15 vaccine was effective only a dismal 19% of the time!

This year’s vaccine is anticipated to be problematic in that there have been issues with the egg proteins used to grow the vaccine and, the predominant virus that’s anticipated for this season(H3N2) is evolving such that the vaccine may no longer be a match for the virus (even if this strain is correctly predicted to predominate this year).

Evaluating the Flu Vaccine:

Being such a low efficacy vaccination means that we should be evaluating the contents of the vaccine and its potential adverse effects very carefully.

The multidose vials of the flu vaccine contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative agent. If you’re going to get vaccinated, request a single-dose vaccine. Note though that there is no such thing as a “preservative free flu shot” (as advertised by some providers of the single-dose shots). The various preparations contain differing preservatives and additives including polysorbate 80 and formaldehyde.

The side effects of the flu shot are most commonly pain at the injection site but muscle aches, headache, fatigue, and arthralgia (joint pain) are also reported. Funny, these symptoms are the most common symptoms of the flu itself!

One more serious adverse effect is Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). It is a relatively rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages their nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. It most commonly follows infection with a virus or bacteria. Most people recover fully from GBS, but some people have permanent nerve damage. The incidence and severity of this condition increases with age (especially adults over 50). GBS is noted as a possible adverse effect of the flu vaccine though the incidence of vaccine-associated GBS is not known.

Flu Prevention, Naturally:

Here are a few tips to help you prevent the flu.

1) Wash hands with soap and warm water before eating
2) Gargle with water twice daily
3) Take a vitamin D supplement during the fall and winter
4) Eat foods rich in Vitamin C, Zinc, Selenium, and Vitamin A/ Beta Carotene
5) Get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep nightly
6) Address your Stress!
6) Limit sugar is your diet
7) Consider a probiotic and elderberry if you are prone to getting sick. Both are safe for long-term use in most people.

Treatment Options if you have the Flu:

If you do start to feel like you have the flu, you have two options:

1) See your doctor within 48 hours of onset of the symptoms. Your doctor can do a nasal swab to confirm that you have the flu (and not just a cold) and can prescribe Tamiflu, an antiviral medication which reduces the duration and severity of the flu symptoms.
2) Lucky for us, we have a few studies confirming that Elderberry has antiviral properties similar to Tamiflu. The key is to start taking it as soon as you feel symptomatic. Gaia herbs makes a syrup and their trusty Quick Defense which are both available at Whole Foods.

For most patients, I do not recommend the Flu Vaccine. I do recommend working to enhance natural immunity and having an elderberry preparation on hand, just in case!

Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND
Dr. Leat Kuzniar ND

Dr. Kuzniar is a board member of the New Jersey Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is also a member of the Gastroenterology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She currently holds a State of Vermont Naturopathic Physician license (as New Jersey does not yet offer licensing for Naturopathic doctors).