2009-09-18 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

Flu Facts
By Dr. Nancy Gahles

DR. NANCY GAHLES DR. NANCY GAHLES Seasonal flus and the H1N1 flu virus are upon us. The media is advising us daily of the college campus epidemics and the ways in which they are handling outbreaks. Common sense is the prevailing strategy.

The fact is that the influenza virus is very contagious. It is spread by touching the eyes, nose and mouth with hands that have come into contact with the virus. Ordinary hand soap is the best defense against this virus. Purell is less effective. Frequent washing of the hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or as long as it takes you to say the alphabet is recommended. For school aged persons, this should be done before entering classrooms and always after using the restroom, touching doorknobs or other multi-use surfaces like desktops.

Isolation from infected persons is the most effective strategy and is being used in colleges by isolating those who are sick into separate, single room dorms. Many schools have instituted courses online and dropped the penalties for absences in order to accommodate those who become infected so that they may attend to their classes without putting their classmates at risk.

The fact is that this strategy will work well in the young adult population, those of high school or college age. Older adults are less affected as they have been exposed to ancestral cousins of H1N1 and have some protection from cross-over immunity, particularly those born before 1957.

The fact is that this flu affects 5- to 14-year-olds 14 times more than adults 60 and over. This presents a problem for parents and the school systems. Isolation is difficult when there are working parents who must attend to their sick child. The issue of unpaid sick days for workers is one about which many mothers groups are actively lobbying their legislators. Where there is no adult available to care for a sick child during the course of a 7-10 day bout of influenza, the parent often has no choice but to send the child to school. This is how an epidemic begins and maintains itself.

One strategy that parents can adopt is that of prevention. A good, well thought out plan of prevention and the creation of a wellness protocol at home can go a long way toward avoiding infection. Very simply, you can increase your immunity when you eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and exercise at least 20 minutes every day. Doing yoga and breathing exercises along with mindfulness mediation also increases immunity according to many studies. Mindfulness mediation simply means that one takes 5- 10 minutes each day to clear thoughts from the mind and BE in the silence. Clearing the clutter relaxes the nervous system. Another way to relax the nervous system and unburden the immune system is to have monthly chiropractic treatments. Research studies show that serum thiol levels increase among those who are adjusted on a regular basis. Serum thiol levels are indicators of DNA repair, or increased immune response.

One important fact of which to be aware is that this H1N1 virus is a mild to moderate one. Despite the media hype, although it may be widespread, it is not severe. Dr. Pascal James Imperato, dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in NYC, recently said "… the bottom line here is - and one has to keep emphasizing this - that the majority of cases of the flu caused by this virus have been relatively mild, self-limited and not of great significance."

The new CDC review, based on reports to the Chicago Department of Public Health, confirmed that the median age of confirmed cases was 12 years old. The infection rate was highest among children 5-14 years, followed by 0-4 years.

Common symptoms were fever and cough, followed by sore throat and shortness of breath.

Incubation period is generally two days from exposure. If you have been exposed to infected persons, there are several steps you can take. First, shower before going to bed to clean your hair, eyelashes and skin from exposure of the day. Second, rinse your nose with a saline spray to flush out viruses or allergens. Avoid sitting near the sick person or using common spaces. You can wear a mask if necessary or appropriate. If you are exposed, but not symptomatic, you can take Oscillococcinum, a well researched homeopathic remedy made by Boiron, that is available in most drugstores as well as health food stores. Its action is most effective at first exposure or onset of symptoms such as runny nose, scratchy throat or the general feeling that you are coming down with something. Tamiflu, a pharmaceutical antiviral, is also effective in shortening the duration of the virus by 24-48 hours IF it is taken during the first 24-48 hours of onset of symptoms. It does have respiratory side effects so please consult your medical doctor before taking Tamiflu.

The single most important treatment, even since ancient times, is bed rest. The use of aspirin to reduce fever is contraindicated in infants and young children during influenza, as it may cause death due to Reye's syndrome. Fevers below 102 degrees are manageable with the guidance of your medical doctor. Studies show that this is the temperature needed for the body to kill off the invading virus and may actually aid the body's own restorative efforts. There are safe herbs available that help to alleviate the discomfort of the fever while supporting its action. Tepid baths always provide welcome relief from the heat of the fever and naturally bring down the body temperature. Consultation with a qualified CAM practitioner will educate you on the best approach for your child or yourself in concert with your own medical doctor.

The age of Integrative Healthcare is upon us. Antibiotics and sulfur drugs are routinely prescribed to ward off the complications of bacterial pneumonia, which can be a sequela of influenza. These drugs have no effect against the flu virus, however. There are therapeutic modalities which are researched and effective that lie outside the domain of conventional medicine. These are included on the National Institute of Health (NIH) website under CAM or Complementary and Alternative medicine.

The fact is that healthcare consumers are spending billions of dollars on these treatments, often with no education or guidance as to their use or effectiveness for their condition. Medical doctors are not educated in this area and often do not have a source of practitioners in their community to whom to refer. We are fortunate, in Rockaway, to have CAM practitioners available. For a list of recommendations, feel free to e-mail me at askDrNancy@ aol.com. Health & Harmony Wellness Education is offering classes on a biweekly basis for consumers and providers of healthcare to educate them on solutions in the area of CAM and integrative healthcare. It is incumbent upon each of us to be responsible for ourselves, to work in a cooperative way with our own family physician and those of other fields so that we establish lines of communication to facilitate prevention and wellness for our own benefit and for the good of the community.

William H. Danforth, founder and former Chairman of the Board of the Ralston Purina Company, motivated people in business and leaders of his organization. In his book, "I Dare You," he wrote, "I Dare You, whoever you are, to share with others the fruits of your daring. Catch a passion for helping others and a richer life will come back to you!" May The Blessings Be!

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