The majority of flu this year has been caused by the H3N2 virus, which has previously been associated with bad flu seasons. Considered together with the fact that the flu season began to peak far earlier than usual it’s easy to see how the potential for a serious flu season looms large, and also how prevention becomes all the more important.
I generally recommend getting the annual flu vaccine, especially if the CDC prediction is for a particularly bad strain as is the case in 2013. Fortunately this year’s formulation is a good match against the H3N2 virus and also protects against the H1N1 virus that caused the deadly flu pandemic of 2009.
The flu vaccine is not perfect – it is about 60% effective in most studies – but contracting the flu after being vaccinated generally results in less severe illness. If the presence of thimerosal, a preservative containing minute amounts of mercury, is of concern ask your doctor or pharmacist to give you a thimerosal-free version.
General preventive measures can also be very effective. Keep in mind that cold and flu viruses spread through airborn droplets from coughs and sneezes, and by touching surfaces where viruses have landed; thus, washing your hands regularly, trying not to touch your eyes, mouth or nose (which could introduce the virus into your body), and doing your best to avoid contact with people who are sick are effective ways to reduce the risk of infection. In addition, follow a healthy diet and stay well-hydrated, manage stress in healthy ways, get adequate sleep, and don’t smoke.
Supplemental vitamin D is appropriate for most people any time of year, but it is especially important during flu season for those who may be vitamin D deficient. Daily doses of vitamin C, astragalus, garlic and probiotics may also help support your immune system. If you do get sick, stay home until you are better – don’t spread those viral droplets around the office. The CDC recommends taking the oral antiviral agent Tamiflu (oseltamivir) for the treatment of influenza, and little or no viral resistance to the agent has been detected so far this year. Herbal remedies such as andrographis (Andrographis paniculata), elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and Pelargonium sidoides show promise, as does the homeopathic remedy oscillococcinum.
You can stay up to date on the severity of the flu in your region by going to the CDC's website.
-- With Marti Lotman
Andrew Weil, M.D., is Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Arizona, and Director of Integrative Health and Healing, Miraval Resort. He is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, which combines conventional medicine with alternative approaches. He received his medical degree from Harvard University. His new book is True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure. Click here for Dr. Weil's website.
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