There is mounting fear -- and perhaps even hysteria -- around the H1N1 virus as we usher in the fall and winter, which are the typical flu seasons.
As I try to make sense of the plethora of conflicting information about H1N1 and what sort of a threat it really is, I spy the bottle of Astragalus Jade Screen sitting next to my computer and take the day's first dose.
I've spent many hours these past few days trying to come up with the clearest information about Swine Flu, what it is, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. What I've come up with is the following:
The H1N1 Virus
The virus itself is very mysterious in that it is a combination of pig, bird and human genetic particles. No one thus far has been able to explain how all of these are present in one virus giving rise to wild conspiracy theories. (Still, the catastrophic betrayal of Bernie Maydoff ripping off thousands of people's retirement, not to mention banks, lending institutions and Wall Street remind us that not all conspiracy theories are fiction.)
To date, there have been 36 confirmed deaths of children attributed to the current Swine Flu in the US, a number well under the 100 children who potentially die each year from seasonal flu viruses. The Center for Disesase Control (CDC) director Dr. Thomas Frieden told reporters in a telephone briefing, "In two-thirds of those, the child had at least one severe underlying illness or underlying disability ... cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, long-standing respiratory or cardiac problems."
By and large, vaccinations are untested and therefore could be dangerous. Very little data exists that can say definitively whether even garden-variety seasonal vaccines are effective. In light of this, one must ask oneself if any risks involved in receiving the vaccine are justified in terms of possible benefits.
You may remember the 1976 flu scare dubbed 'the epidemic that never was.' The scare was based on the sudden death of one army recruit from a mysterious flu in February of that year. The alarm was sounded and government agencies ordered the stockpiling of anti-flu vaccine for the impending epidemic in the fall and winter. The epidemic never happened.
What did happen was that soon after the inadequately tested vaccine was administered to an estimated 220,000 Americans, thousands of people began coming down with severe reactions to the vaccine, including nerve damage and paralysis. The nation was confronted with 1.3 billion dollars in lawsuits, which could be tripled if this were to happen in today's economy. So to many, including the thousands of health care workers themselves who are at this time refusing to take the H1N1 vaccine because of similar inadequate human testing, the memory of that fiasco is fresh enough to raise a number of red flags.
I and others have found it impossible to come up with any data that clearly substantiates benefit from any flu vaccine. If anyone can point me to studies that strongly attest to the efficacy of the flu vaccine, please send it and I will gladly post it along with a retraction. Considering this lack of evidence, the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) proclamation that our greatest defense against the flu is the vaccine, looks a little like a case of the 'emperor's new clothes.'
There are valid questions being raised concerning the safety of the present vaccine. It seems that along with inactive particles of the H1N1 virus, the vaccine contains a number of other substances that are intended to add to its overall effect. One of these is squalene, which is added to vaccines to further activate the immune system. A substance found in fish liver oil, squalene is harmless when taken by mouth. However, when injected into the bloodstream as it was in the anthrax vaccine, it was seen as the cause of the 'Gulf War Syndrome' that afflicts so many military personnel who served in that war.
I'd like to make clear here that flu vaccines and anti-flu drugs do not prevent the flu. The primary benefit is not to stop people from catching the flu, but to lessen its severity somewhat and to shorten its duration by anywhere from a one half to 2 days.
At this point in writing this post, I walked up to my herb cabinet and popped two capsules of Yin Chiao with Echinacea tablets.
The CDC claims that antiviral drugs are 70% to 90% effective in preventing viral infections. However, studies show that antiviral treatment of seasonal influenza is most effective when treatment is first administered within 48 hours of flu onset.
It has already been found that the present H1N1 flu virus is immune to two popular antiviral drugs, Amantadine and Rimantadine. Over 20 individuals have developed strains of the virus that are resistant to Tamiflu; so far there have been found no cases resistant to Relenza, the only other antiviral drug found to be effective for the H1N1 virus. Despite recommendations that these antiviral drugs be reserved for the most serious cases, firsthand reports I've heard about H1N1 outbreaks in Southeastern and Midwestern states are that medical doctors are not testing for the virus strain because it's too expensive and it takes too long. Some doctors are simply prescribing Tamiflu to anyone who comes to them with symptoms of flu.
There have been reports of highly significant neuropsychiatric side effects which include impaired consciousness, abnormal behavior, hallucinations and self harm, especially in Japan where the drug is most widely prescribed. This particular concern has been focused on teenagers but there have also been problems reported in children and adults.
Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu, maintains that the benefits of the drug outweigh the costs. This reasonable assertion is applied to all drugs, but alas, not to antiviral herbs and health supplements that have far less risks associated with widespread use than drugs such as Tamiflu. The European Medicines Agency also said that the benefits of Tamiflu outweigh the costs, but that it would closely monitor reports from Japan. In South Korea, however there are warnings against prescribing the drug to teenagers except in special cases.
So as you can see, what starts out as a simple and reasonable proposition, which is to use antiviral drugs to combat the flu, something the CDC warns against because of the very real threat that the virus can mutate to a more deadly, drug-resistant strain, has gotten mired in misuse and confusion. It seems that Tamiflu has become the drug of choice by many US doctors for indiscriminately treating every case of the flu that enters their clinics. Because of the widespread press for the availability of this drug, medical doctors often have little choice as they are pressed by their patients to administer the drug.
Well, it seems that there is no clear description as yet how people actually die of the flu. Of the 36,000 deaths a year attributed to any flu (give or take a thousand), some people, fortunately a very few, have a particularly virulent attack that progresses from onset to death within 24 hours. As rare as this is (and if it were not so rare, you'd better believe that we'd be hearing a lot more about this), most of these deaths result from mostly bacterial complications that arise as a result of having the flu. These can lead to serious lung damage, pneumonia and death.
At this point I decided that despite the fact that I was going to be seeing a few clients in the office today and even performing a short piano recital before a small audience at the downtown public library, I'd follow in the steps of my Sicilian forebears and dip a bit of bread in fresh garlic and olive oil and take it throughout the day. Too bad for those who may have to smell my garlic breath all day, but as we've heard several times in this blog already, 'the benefits outweigh the risks.'
If you're interested in learning more about the use of herbs and other safe natural alternative preventatives and treatments for flu that can be taken alone or along with pharmaceuticals, join my webinar next Monday, Sept. 21, 2009, from 6 to 7:30 p.m PST. I tried this last week but I we suffered some technical difficulties including a brief blackout that abruptly shut the program down. Please empower yourself for flu season by attending this rescheduled event!
Note: After posting this blog, a friend sent me this article by Len Saputo, MD, Stacia Lansman, MD, and Byron Belitsos. Entitled "Avoid the Swine Flu -- and Boost Your Own Immunity," it supports my views laid out here and is full of great, clear information. Please check it out and forward it to your community.