Face the (Flu) Facts:

November 1, 2011

Can a spoonful of elderberry a day keep the doctor away?

Or, in other words, who should get the flu shot this year?

Influenza Virus Vaccine Information for 2012

With the flu season in full swing already, our appointment books are filling up with requests for this year’s flu shot. And who can blame them? Last year’s seasonal flu, and not to mention 2009’s H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak was both miserable for the patient (causing some a weeks’ worth of headaches, body aches, fevers, and cough) as well terrifying for others, who feared scary complications of the flu such as pneumonia and seizures.

Thus, it makes complete sense that people are requesting a flu shot as soon as possible and not hesitating to take the plunge with this vaccine as a preventative measure to falling ill this winter.

This brings up a good point: Is the flu vaccine the best way to prevent the flu? And is there another option to flu prevention beside the flu shot?

I want to highlight a few points about the 2012 Influenza Vaccine to help you make the best decision for yourself and family.

 

Flu Fact #1: the 2012 Influenza Vaccine contains 3 influenza viruses: the H1N1 (swine flu) strain, and two other viral strains that caused the seasonal flu last year. In other words, this year’s flu shot is the same as the flu shot from last year. Two types of flu vaccines exist: one is a shot and the other is a intranasal spray.1

Do I need the flu shot every year? Usually, yes; and the CDC recommends that you do indeed need a flu shot every year. 1 If you had the flu shot last year, or better yet, actually caught the flu last year, you already have immunity to the flu strains in this year’s vaccine. That is a good thing, and you could get away with not getting the flu shot this year. That being said, your immunity does taper over time, and there is no harm in getting another flu shot this year; it would simply act as a booster for your immune system. 2

 

Flu Fact #2: The flu does not affect everyone the same.

Certain groups of people are at a higher risk of getting the flu, and are also at a higher risk for serious complications from the flu.

These groups of people include, but are not limited to:

  • Adults over the age of 65 years
  • Children under 5 years, and especially children under 2 years
  • People with Asthma
  • People with Diabetes
  • People with cancer, or who have had cancer in the past
  • Pregnant woman
  • People with altered immune systems
  • People who have HIV/ AIDS2

If you, or anyone you live with, falls into one of these high risk categories mentioned above, then making an informed and wise decision about getting the flu shot this year is essential for the health of your loved one; and a flu shot may be a good consideration.

 

Flu Fact #3: Not everyone should get the flu shot.

The groups of people who should not get a flu shot include, but are not limited to:

  • People with IgE anaphylactic egg allergies
  • Those with a history of Guillan-Barre Syndrome
  • People with a current, acute febrile illness

An even more extensive list exists for the nose spray form of the flu vaccine. The list includes all of the above contraindications, plus:

  • Children younger than 2 years of age
  • Adults older than 50 years of age
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are immunocompromised, or people who are in close contact with others who are immunocompromised
  • People with a history of asthma or wheezing in the last 12 months
  • Children taking aspirin or other salicylates2

Although it is not a contraindication, it is interesting to note that a recent study found that the flu vaccination is not as effective in those who are overweight and obese (Sheridan, 2011.)3

If you or someone you know falls into one of the above categories, scroll down to learn about other strategies to prevent the flu this season.

 

Flu Fact #4: There are serious risks associated with the flu.

These include, but are not limited to, developing pneumonia, neurological complications such as seizures, pulmonary complications, sinusitis, worsening of underlying chronic disease, and other various complications such as carditis (inflammation of cardiac, heart, tissue.) The people most at risk for these complications are children under 6 months, adults older than 65 years, and those with pulmonary conditions such as asthma, COPD, emphysema, smokers, and the like. 1

If you, or people in your household, fall into any of these high-risk categories, a flu shot may be a good consideration.

 

Flu Fact #5: There are risks associated with the flu shot.

Getting the flu shot is not a guarantee that you will not get sick. Some of the common side effects associated with this year’s flu shot include: flu-like symptoms (headache, fatigue, body aches, cough), soreness at the site of injection, mild fever, and just feeling crummy. Other less common side effects include febrile seizures, acute respiratory illnesses, vomiting and diarrhea, and other sickness. More serious side effects of the flu shot include anaphylactic allergic reactions, Guillan-Barre syndrome, and Reye syndrome.2

 

Flu Fact #6: There are some strategies, other than vaccinating, to help prevent the flu.

Good ol’ fashioned hand washing is one way to prevent the spread of germs. Washing your hands after every cough, sneeze, and trip outside may be difficult… but hand sanitizer gels kept in convenient places are a good alternative to washing when a sink is not handy. Your naturopath can offer you some more ways to help reduce your chances of getting the flu this year.

 

Flu Fact #7: There are no herbal alternatives to the flu shot.

But there are herbs that help reduce flu symptoms, and can be used to help prevent contracting the flu. The most notable herb for influenza treatment and prevention is Sambucus nigra, Elderberry. This is a delicious berry that tastes great as a wine, syrup, cordial, jam, etc, and can be used medicinally this flu season. A placebo-controlled, double-blinded study from 2004 published in the Journal of International Medical Research concluded that elderberry inhibited replication of human influenza viruses A and B through a process called hemagglutination, which essentially means that elderberry blocks the viruses ability to bind to the host (you.) This makes elderberry a great addition to a daily flu prevention plan that includes other vitamins, minerals, and strategies for preventing the spread of flu (Bove, 2010.)4

  

Flu Questions & Answers:

Can you get the flu if you have had a flu shot? Yes, for a variety of reasons. One, it takes about two weeks for your body to develop full immunity to the viruses it was exposed to in the vaccine. If you are exposed to these same flu strains in that two week time period, you may become ill. Also, viruses mutate and change. It is possible that you can become sick with the flu from a strain that you were not immunized against. Last, other non-flu viruses, such rhinovirus, can cause flu-like sickness and symptoms. Unfortunately, the flu shot is no guarantee that you will not end up laid up on the couch sick this year.1

 

Can you get the flu shot too early or too late? No, whether you get the shot in September, or as late as after Thanksgiving, the effectiveness of the shot is the same. However, the longer you wait to vaccinate, the higher the likelihood that you will be exposed to the flu and get sick.1

 

Where can you get elderberry? The best place to ensure you are receiving quality products is from your Naturopath’s office. Please ask your naturopathic physician for a recommendation of a product.

 

How much elderberry should I take? The amount you need varies for each person. Talk to your naturopath about taking elderberry on a daily basis in a dose that is both safe and effective for you.

 

Does taking elderberry replace the flu shot? No. Nothing can provide immunity to a virus or disease except for: 1) becoming ill with that virus, disease, etc, or 2) vaccinating for that disease or virus. While elderberry cannot replace immunity formed from the flu shot, it may be used as an alternative vaccine measure for contracting the flu.4

 

References:

1. King County Public Health Website. Seasonal influenza (“flu”) vaccine recommendatiosn for the 2011-2012 flu season. Information updated Oct 24th, 2011. Website accessed Oct 31st, 2011. http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/communicable/immunization/fluseason.aspx

2.  Center for Disease Control and Prevention Website. Seasonal Influenza (Flu) and The Influenza (Flu) Viruses. Author Unknown. Information updated Jun 30th, 2011. Website accessed 10/31/2011. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/

3. Sheridan PA. Int J Obes. Influenza vaccine less effective in overweight, obese people.

2011;doi:10.1038/ijo.2011.208. Article accessed online Oct 31st, 2011. Online publication: http://www.endocrinetoday.com

4. Bove, M. Influenza and elderberry: A safe, effective flu option. Jan 1, 2010. Article accessed online Oct 31st, 2011. Online publication: http://www.gaiaherbs.com/articles/detail/9/Influenza-and-Elderberry-A-Safe-Effective-Flu-Option

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