by Kirby LindsayWith the arrival of winter comes the increased risk of catching the flu – and a need for decisions about prevention. “Influenza is a very contagious disease,” advised Martin Cahn, M.D., a family practice physician, by e-mail. Influenza is characterized by abrupt onset of fever, muscle aches, coughing, sore throat and headache. It can be particularly dangerous for young infants, pregnant women, asthmatics, and those with chronic respiratory conditions (COPD) or other chronic diseases. People die from influenza, with over 36,000 deaths each year.
Flu Shot: Yes Or No
From his office in the Fremont Village building (3601 Fremont Ave N), Dr. Cahn serves as one of 20 influenza sentinel providers for the King County Health Department. He sends them samples to assist in tracking influenza and monitoring for new strains. As a result, he wrote, “I feel strongly about the importance of people getting immunized against influenza.”
It’s not too late for a shot, Dr. Cahn observed, as “traditionally the influenza season comes to Seattle in January and February.” Influenza is viral, and becoming more resistant, he pointed out. “Contrary to some people's perception,” Dr. Cahn explained, “the influenza vaccine works within the body's immune system to reduce or prevent influenza.” The shot has few side effects, he wrote, and it will not cause the flu. “It takes 10 days to two weeks for your body to get the protective levels of antibodies so the time to get the shot is now before influenza season starts,” he pointed out.
Todd A. Born, N.D., works as a first year resident naturopathic physician at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, and their affiliate sites. When asked if he advises flu shots, he wrote by e-mail, “it all depends on the patient and their particular situation. Even if a person receives the flu shot, this doesn’t guarantee that they won’t get the flu.”
“I personally feel that the immuno-compromised and the elderly that are frail should receive the flu vaccine,” he advised, as well as those who work with these populations. “This year’s vaccine only protects you from the following three strains: H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1,” Dr. Born remarked, “these may or may not be the strains that are going around.”
Carly Bridge, N.D., has a practice at Naturopathic Family Medicine in upper Fremont, and she advised that each person make an individual decision before getting a flu shot. “As a naturopathic doctor,” she said, “we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s definitely a conversation every person should have with their own doctor. Flu shots are one tool, but they are not the only tool.”
The Other Things
“Hand washing is one of the best tools we have in our arsenal, everyone should be doing it,” said Dr. Bridge, “Sometimes we forget the basics…” She also mentioned studies that show certain nutrients – including pro-biotics, elderberry, and vitamin D – can help fight viral infections. Finally, she urged a good diet of colorful vegetables and low in sugar, and plenty of rest.
As a preventative measure, Dr. Born also emphasized hand washing, “with warm water and soap, frequently throughout the day. If soap is not available, hand sanitizer will work.” Also, cover coughs and sneezes with the arm or elbow, not the hands. “Plenty of rest, adequate water hydration and exercise will keep your immune system running strong,” he summed up.
“Since the flu is spread via respiratory droplets,” Dr. Bridge described, “so wearing a surgical mask may prevent transmission.” Dr. Cahn pointed out that droplets can stick to surfaces and remain infectious for 24 hours.
If It Gets You
Both Dr. Born and Dr. Bridge mentioned exploring naturopathic – and homeopathic – treatments to prevent and treat the flu. Dr. Bridge recommended a proactive approach by speaking with a naturopathic practitioner before flu season starts, to create an individualized prevention plan.
“Most importantly,” she said, “if you think you have the flu, you can protect others…by staying at home unless you are in need of urgent medical attention.” Dr. Born advised people to stay home until 24 hours after symptoms resolve, keep 3-5 feet from others while ill, and do not share eating utensils.
Dr. Cahn advised against treating flu with aspirin, due to a small risk of Reye Syndrome. Instead, he suggested acetaminophen, and possibly ibuprofen for fever control, and muscle aches.
High fever – Dr. Bridge mentioned anything over 102.5 degrees for more than 3 days while Dr. Born described a fever of 104 degrees – means it is time for immediate medical attention. Medical intervention should also be sought, all three doctors agreed, when a patient has trouble breathing and/or cannot stay hydrated. Severe lethargy/fatigue, confusion, bluish or gray skin color, and pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen also requires urgent medical care.
For more information, Dr. Cahn recommended the CDC website, and the American Lung Association ‘Faces of Influenza’ site. Also, consider the monthly lectures on health and wellness topics at Naturopathic Family Medicine and Bastyr Center for Natural Health. Most importantly, take care and stay healthy!
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.