The flu season is well underway and will last through May 2017. Because influenza viruses mutate fast, every year is different. This makes it hard to predict exactly when the peak will hit, or if it will be a mild or cruel flu season. Sometimes, peak infections do not come until March or April. Last year’s flu season peaked in March 2016.
Even public health experts are reluctant to predict this year’s flu trends because of lack of consistent data. Even Google Flu Trends no longer publishes influenza predictions. However, infectious disease scientists believe that flu forecasting is still worth a shot.
To see if there are flu outbreaks in your area, check out FluNearYou. The Center for Disease Control provides a weekly flu surveillance report with a map of activity by state. By the end of January, flu infections were widespread in most states. For activity by county, go to the health department website in your state. For a real-time illness indicator, get the Sickweather app. Sickweather scans social networks for indicators of illness to find out which viruses are going around.
So far, the 2016-2017 flu season has been relatively mild. No one knows for sure if it will be worse. From CDC testing, this season may follow last year’s trends with H3N2 and H1N1 strains circulating. Because influenza can be a serious respiratory infection, it is advisable to know what you can do to beat the flu when it comes.
Flu and Cold Viruses Prefer Winter Weather
Cold and flu viruses that infect the human nasal passages and lungs like it cold. That’s why we get sicker in the winter. Flu season peaks in the winter around February and can last through May. In the Southern Hemisphere, it peaks between June and August, just when most US tourists are going to Cusco to visit Machu Picchu.
One difference between illnesses caused by cold versus flu viruses is that influenza invades cells deep in the lungs. Rhinoviruses that cause colds, like tissue in the nose, sinuses, and throat. That’s one of the reason influenza, especially H3N2, can be so dangerous. Inflammation in the lungs causes accumulation of fluid making it difficult to breathe.
Should You Get a Flu Shot?
Because of the many different types and variants of influenza virus, new flu vaccines get released every year. For 2016-2017, two kinds of vaccines are available: one with three types of influenza A virus, and another containing the same three influenza A viruses plus a B strain. However, this is educated guesswork.
Despite frequent mismatch between vaccines and circulating flu viruses, the CDC recommends that everyone get the flu vaccine every year. Why? Annual vaccination has been found to provide some protection against variant viruses. Vaccination may lower the likelihood of severe infections such as hospitalization and death. In my professional opinion, that’s a weak argument for getting annual vaccinations.
If you get a flu shot, timing matters. If you get vaccinated in October, and flu season peaks in March, the vaccine’s effect may have worn off. Also, getting vaccinated every year may reduce effectiveness because your immune response is not as effective. Since scientists have not resolved these questions and concerns, and vaccines are far from perfect, I have never gotten a flu shot.
Are Antiviral Drugs Effective?
If flu vaccines don’t work that well all of the time, what is the best backup? Despite minimal usefulness against H3N2, the CDC strongly recommends antiviral drugs as first line treatment. However, to be effective, flu drugs have to be taken at the first signs of infection. Otherwise they do not work.
The CDC suggests doctors prescribe neuraminidase inhibitors to assist vaccination. The three prescription antiviral medications recommended for this flu season are oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), and peramivir (Rapivab) for intravenous use in the hospital or medical center.
Two other antiviral drugs, rimantadine (Flumadine) and amantadine (Symmetrel), are much less effective due to antiviral drug resistance. These drugs are not recommended to treat or prevent H3N2 influenza.
Side effects of flu antiviral drugs include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, runny or stuffy nose, cough, diarrhea, headache, and mood changes.
Can Natural Medicines Beat the Flu?
Influenza is a highly infectious disease. It spreads from person to person through the air. The best prevention is to avoid infection. Since flu outbreaks tend to occur in clusters. Check the health department website for your state to see if there is increased activity in your area.
Tips to Avoid Infection:
- Wear a mask
- Wear gloves
- Wash your hands
- Don’t linger around people sneezing and coughing
- Stay hydrated
Flu is highly contagious. If you get sick, stay home. Don’t become a super spreader. If you have a high fever, call your doctor. But, before you get sick, learn more about how to avoid, prevent, and effectively treat the flu with natural medicines.
Herbal Teas to Beat the Flu:
Herbal teas can be helpful. Keep in mind that they will not completely prevent infection. But, they can lessen the severity and shorten the time you are sick. For best results, take them at the first symptoms of the flu.
- Ginger – Make a tea from 4-5 slices of fresh ginger per cup of hot water. Drink one cup three times daily to reduce inflammation.
- Elderberry Flower – Steep 2-3 tablespoons of dried elderberry flowers in hot water for ten minutes. Keep covered while steeping. Add honey and drink one cup three times daily. Elderberry fights fever and inhibits cold and flu viruses.
- Yarrow Flowers – Brew 2-3 tablespoons of dried yarrow flowers per cup of hot water. Simmer on the stove for twenty minutes. Keep covered while simmering. It is very bitter, so add honey if you like it sweeter. Drink one cup three times daily. Yarrow may inhibit the H1N1 virus.
- Boneset – Brew 2-3 tablespoons of dried boneset leaves and stems per cup of hot water. Simmer on the stove for twenty minutes. Keep covered while simmering. Add honey and drink one cup three times daily. Boneset helps reduce the aches and pains associated with the flu.
From Beating the Flu, J.E. Williams, OMD 2004
If you can’t find these fresh or dried herbs at a local health food store, order them online before you get sick – preparing for the flu is a great way to start your herbal medicine cabinet.
Natural Supplements for Natural Immunity
Don’t forget immune boosting supplements. These natural products help prevent cold and flu, and can also shorten the time that you are sick. From my clinical experience, zinc is the most important immune supportive supplement. I’ve listed these for you in the order of importance, but you can also take all of them for added protection.
If you are to take on a few supplements to prepare for the winter flu season, zinc and vitamin C are most important.
For a more in depth view of self-health care for the flu, look for my book Beating the Flu.
The Most Critical Flu Prevention Tactics:
At the very least, please take on these practices to help keep us all healthy.
- Avoid spreading the virus if you think you’ve been exposed
- Boost your immune system with herbal and natural supplements
- Arm yourself with up-to-date flu information
Stay Healthy to Prevent & Beat the Flu