Should You Get A Flu Shot? And Other Stories
About a week ago, I felt like I was getting a cold. Rather than down some DayQuil and move on, I decided to take a different approach. I entered into a small, patchouli-smelling store called Arrowroot on Lancaster and looked around for some alternative cold medicines and found one named Coldcalm. The directions said to let two tablets dissolve on the tongue every two hours, and the sufferer’s cold symptoms would be relieved. Hating cough syrup and interested, I decided to buy the package of white pills and was happy to find that they really helped. Even though I still had a cold, it was entirely manageable.
Then my mother called me, telling me to get a flu shot. It’s not that I am not scared of needles, but I don’t particularly like getting shots (although, who does?). So I decided to do research and see if the whole needle-in-arm event could be avoided this flu season. I found that it’s not necessary to be vaccinated, although getting a shot isn’t a bad thing. I know that I, for one, will not be going to the Health Center for a flu shot this year.
A little background check on the flu proved to be very interesting. According to Mary Aspinwall, of the School of Homeopathy, the flu caused more deaths in World War I than combat itself. The estimates reached to 21,642,274 people with 1 billion people infected, which was half of the population at the time (6). The influenza virus exists as three strains, creatively names Types A, B, and C- A being the most serious and C being the least. Spread through the air or from a "contaminated surface" and entering as droplets into through the nose or mouth, the virus produces symptoms such as high temperature, loss of appetite, sore throat, chills, pain in breathing, feelings of feebleness, aches and pains, and coughing thick mucus. The flu virus can also cause pneumonia, croup, fever convulsions, ear infections, and Reye’s syndrome, a nerve condition that affects children and adolescents (2, 5, and 6).
Thus, with the emergence of such viruses as SARS and the avian flu, the public has reason to run to the nearest clinic or supermarket for a flu shot. The vaccine, however, may not be the best solution. Simply put, the flu shot is what’s known as an "inactivated vaccine", meaning that it is an injection of the killed flu virus (7). Once inside, the T-cells in the immune system can recognize and respond to the real flu virus when it enters in the body later. A new form of vaccine, the nasal-spray, contains LAIV, "live, weakened" influenza virus that do not themselves cause the disease. A (H1N1), A (H3N1), and B viruses are in each vaccine, but the combination changes each year, due to scientists’ predictions on which strains will be more prevalent in the flu season.
Sounds pretty safe. But, on closer investigation, many scientists have criticisms. As Randall Neustaedter, OMD, put it, "The flu vaccine gets the most-useless-vaccine-of-all-time award (6)". A study showed that "only 1 in 4 adults will acquire" immunity from the flu when the effects of the shot were studied among a healthy population. Jenny Thompson of the Health Sciences Institute wrote that the flu shot comes with more than the virus; it also contains thimerosal, a preservative from mercury, formaldehyde to kill viruses, aluminum to encourage activity in antibodies, and ethylene glycol, or anti-freeze, to disinfect. The shot and spray also may come with some disagreeable side affects, like fever, aches, headache, vomiting, and runny nose (7).
If you’re not going to get a flu shot or LAIV via spray, then you still have some options. The most important thing to remember is that the skin is the body’s first line of defense. Mom was right: washing your hands and covering your mucus membranes (nose and mouth) is step 1 in preventing illness. The body’s second line of defense is the immune system, so keeping it healthy is imperative. Factors that boost immunity include regular exercise, foods with vitamins and minerals, low stress, and sleep (4). If that isn’t enough for some people, supplements such as Echinacea, Selenium, Zinc, and N-acetyl cysteine, and vitamins like C, E, and beta carotene can be ingested to promote immune system wellness. A lesser known trick is to eat raw garlic daily, and doctors also recommend eating less sugar (4).
Homeopathic medicines are also another option to consider. Like the aforementioned Coldcalm, homeopathic remedies, like the popular Oscillococcinum, that have herbal ingredients. Homeopathy is an old (1700's old) method of treating patients by giving them supplements to "stimulat(e) the body’s own immune responses (1)". It’s most common form of treatment involves small doses periodically administered, such as the Coldcalm’s two tablets every two hours dosage formatting. Another distinct property of homeopathy is the notion that symptoms like swelling and fever are not caused by the bacteria or virus, but the body’s immune system trying to combat the disease (think of a fever as a host’s way of cooking the bacteria).
If you fear the influenza, don’t. There are options for you: shot, spray, exercise. Feel free to choose whichever method. I know that I will probably be taking another trip over to Arrowroot. As Jenny Thompson said, "the key is immunity (4)". If that means dissolving small tablets on my tongue every few hours or eating spinach instead of Snickers, so be it.
1. CR. "How Does Homeopathy Work?". http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f02/web2/cr.html
2. "Influenza Fact Sheet". http://flucliniclocator.org/
3. "Homeopathy for Flu/Cold". http://www.holisticonline.com/Remedies/Flu/Flu_homeopathy.htm
4. Thompson, Jenny. "Is it a Good Idea to Get a Flu Shot?". http://www.hsibaltimore.com/ealerts/ea200309/ea20030924.html
5. "Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) Vaccine". http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm
6. Aspinwall, Mary. "To Jab or Not To Jab, That is the Question". http://homeopathic.org/flu_pdfs/Aspinwall_Jan04.pdf
7. "Preventing the Flu". http://familydoctor.org/x2084.xml