Healing ourselves of the Flu epidemic

The flu season is amongst us. The media reports hit on increasing hospitalizations and nation-wide death tolls, 59 of those being pediatric. However, only 23.3% of those hospitalized are positive for the flu.7 So why the hysteria? In the times of mass hysteria, informing yourself is key. Peter Doshi, a researcher whose graduate thesis from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine focused on the politics of influenza policies, wrote in the British Medical Journal: “If CDC (Center for Disease Control) viral surveillance data is correct, then in recent years true influenza viruses have only caused an average of 12 percent of influenza-like illness.” 1

Specimens

Week 5

No of specimens tested

10132

No. of positive specimens (%)

2,362 (23.3%)

Positive specimens by type/subtype

Influenza A

1,740 (73.7%)

2009 H1N1

74 (4.3%)

Subtyping not performed

640 (36.8%)

H3 1,026

(59.0%) 

Influenza B

622 (26.3%)

 Table 1. 2

If the statistics are correct, what is making the public sick? What if our stressful society was the cause of this illness? What if the flu was a psychological epidemic propagated by media to protect employer profit with an underlying root cause of stress and fear? What if the flu is simply a conglomeration of stress, over-exhaustion, and mass-hysteria? What if there is no evidence that the flu shot actually prevents the flu, especially in the most at-risk population: the children and the elderly?3 What if the season of the holidays and constant media injections about the flu, hospitalizations, and deaths were making us stressed and ill? What if the lack of health insurance in our society adds to the number of hospital visits and paranoia? I know, this sounds like a hippy write-up. Keep reading, there is some very interesting information.

We must remember the flu is a five to seven day illness caused from an influenza virus that is spread thru nasal or lung droplets or by touching contaminated items and then touching the mucous membranes of the nose/mouth/eyes. Most times it is not serious and can leave the body in a a few days if the person takes proper care of themselves with hydration, rest, and diet. The flu comes around every year and every year we hear about the illness, the complications, the hospitalizations, the deaths, the controversy over the flu shot and Tamil-flu, the alleged links between the vaccine and autism, and the media campaigns and social push for vaccination. Our society digs into those who do not get vaccinated and calls them “stupid hippies”1. How does the media and peer pressure sway our decision making? How can we stop an epidemic and what can we do to take care of ourselves? Start by being informed and decrease stress.

Our country loves drama. No matter the industry, be it health, business, music, sports, or education: drama feeds the fuel of curiosity, of being linked-in and connected to the greater mass. And what drives many humans? Fear: of not being prepared, of being left out, of ‘what ifs’, and of not being connected or recognized. And fear is injected into us every day with media, TV, radio, and advertisements- it is nearly inescapable. What if fear and mass hysteria created a society of people who are either sick or fighting off an illness? What if fitting-in meant calling-out? What if it meant complaining about not feeling well, writing on blogs asking advice if you should go to the ER instead of calling mom or a practitioner, what if it meant comparing profit-sharing gain/loss, or complaining about how many employees are out sick today?

There is something called mass psychogenic illness (MPI), also called mass sociogenic illness. It is “the rapid spread of illness signs and symptoms affecting members of a cohesive group, originating from a nervous system disturbance involving excitation, loss or alteration of function, whereby physical complaints that are exhibited unconsciously have no corresponding organic aetiology.”4 Could this be a possible explanation? Mass hysteria started by the media and lending itself to thousands of sick people who exhibit signs and symptoms though many do not have actual confirmed virus (remember, just 12 -23.3% have confirmed virus). Check out these statistics on ten years of studying symptoms of outbreaks:

Symptom

Percentage reporting

Headache

67

Dizziness or light-headedness

46

Abdominal cramps or pain

41

Cough

31

Fatigue, drowsiness, or weakness

31

Sore or burning throat

30

Hyperventilation or difficulty breathing

19

Watery or irritated eyes

13

Chest tightness/ chest pain

12

Inability to concentrate/trouble thinking

11

Vomiting

10

Tingling, numbness, or paralysis

10

Anxiety or nervousness

8

Diarrhea

7

Trouble with vision

7

Rash

4

Loss of consciousness/syncope

4

Itching

3

Interesting that many symptoms match those of the flu epidemic. But what about the number of hospitalizations? The congestion in emergency rooms reflects how many patients lack a primary-care physician. As well, industry consolidation has meant fewer hospitals and left those remaining less capable of handling sudden surges in demand, creating a frenzied spike. Hospital emergency departments received an average of 34,600 visits in 2011–nearly doubling since 1990, when the total was 18,300, according to an annual American Hospital Association survey. And the majority of the patients weren’t found to be gravely sick–and shouldn’t have been in the ER at all, said Michael Jaggi, an emergency-room physician.5 This is perhaps a highly under-examined aspect of the flu hysteria. Many Americans do not have insurance and do not get to a clinic or doctor so they run to the ER and a mass hysteria pulled by the media ensues. One must look at the beginning of the kite before you start chasing the tail.

Do you remember the Elmo fad? The doll was so hot people couldn’t get enough of it! A toy that originally sold for $29 hit top prices of $1500. Why? Because it was in considerable demand. People really and truly believed they needed to have one for their children, perhaps believing they would be seen as terrible, out-of-fashion parents who were depriving their children of the greatest toy in the world. People have also been recently killing each other on Black Friday for the day-after-Thanksgiving sales. Crazy, huh? Stress and crowd mentality really gets us, especially in a consumer-based economy where the dollar talks. And stress is the number one precursor to illness: “80% of illness is linked to stress.” 6

Somewhat fitting that the flu season hits amongst the most stressful season. This is not to discount other factors including change of weather, potential winter heating issues, actual live virus, and immune systems that need extra attention. But what if the underlying cause of the epidermic was an illness of stress? Think about it for a moment…Flu season comes right before the Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza (I think I’ve covered all the possible holiday translations) and spikes around the end of January/beginning of February when Valentines day, chocolates, engagement rings, and teddy bears are on the platter. The season of pressured-buying, late work nights to pay for gifts, and feeling the need to prove how good and deserving/giving you are. Nerves already on edge and the state of your family’s life hangs on your fingertips. The media and employers scream: “Vaccinate! If not you will die or get fired!”7

If that isn’t enough to send you running to the pharmacy or doctor I do not know what is. If we are going to fire people for not taking a vaccine it better work, right? Wrong. There is little evidence that the flu vaccine does work. The vaccine strand is determined early in the year by the FDA based on three potential strands that may come in the next year. In a good year the average is 70-90% for guessing the correct strain of the flu. In a bad year it’s 0-50%. The efficacy of the correct flu vaccine diminishes to 17-53% for the elderly because of their decreased antibody response.8 As well, the vaccine does not work in the age groups that are most at-risk for flu complications, children and adults over 65 yo. There is another option for that age group, a nasal vaccine. However, the National Vaccine Information Center states that “it is also possible for vaccine strain influenza to be transmitted by persons, who have recently received live attenuated influenza virus nasal vaccines. Vaccine strain viruses can be shed in body fluids for seven or more days after administration of live attenuated virus vaccines.”9

cartoon_guessing

This September, Canadian researchers revealed a study showing that at the start of the 2009 “pandemic,” those who got the seasonal shot in the 2008-2009 flu season were more likely to get infected with the pandemic virus than people who hadn’t received it. Because researchers had noticed the phenomenon in the early weeks of the pandemic, Dr Danuta Skowronski, an influenza expert at the BC Centre for Disease Control in Vancouver, and a strong supporter of annual flu vaccine campaigns, more recently conducted a blinded test using ferrets (a mammal with human-like susceptibility to colds and flus). She found that those ferrets who got the seasonal flu shot got sicker when they were exposed to the pandemic H1N1 virus. Such research indicates there might be many potential unknowns capable of playing havoc with our immune systems.10, 11

The CDC skirts around the efficacy of the vaccine:12

            "How effective is the flu shot? The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends on the age 
                       and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses
                       or virus in the vaccine and those in circulation.
            Who Should Get Vaccinated This Season? Everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get 
                       a flu vaccine this season."

No certainty to effectiveness but yet everyone should get it. Seems like a jump. What about research? The Cochrane Collaboration is an independent nonprofit organization who researches evidence-based medicine. They examined flu vaccines in healthy adults. This body of literature spans 25 studies and involves 59,566 people, and found an annual flu shot reduced overall clinical influenza by about six percent (6%). It would reduce absenteeism by only 0.16 days (about four hours) for each influenza episode, a small effect given that the average flu bout lasts five to seven days. What was most illuminating was the authors’ conclusion: “There is not enough evidence to recommend universal vaccination against influenza in healthy adults.” 13

What about treatment after infection? Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is widely used to treat influenza. However, it is only effective in the first 24 hours as it prevents cells from bursting open and releasing the virus. Once the cells burst it has lost its effectiveness. Research also shows it only reduces the duration of symptoms by 20.7 hours. There is no difference in the likelihood of hospitalization (33/2633 patients for Tamiflu vs 20/1694 for placebo). “There is no evidence that oseltamivir reduces the likelihood of hospitalization, pneumonia or the combined outcome of pneumonia, otitis media and sinusitis in the ITT (intention-to-treat) population.14 As well, there is a potential harm in developing influenza viruses resistant to Tamiflu from the overuse of the drug in conditions where it too late to use.15

No one likes being sick, especially not your employer. Ever thought about the flu from an economical point of view? There is a strong marketing strategy behind getting vaccines into companies. This is how the flu vaccine is marketed to employers:

         "Why offer flu shots to your employees?
  • You can save about $150 per employee per year in sick leave!
  • You can reduce absenteeism by as much as 45%. Employees
  • sick with the flu miss an average of 2.8 days of work per season
  • You can save on lost production time.
  • You can show employees how important they are by giving
  • them an added benefit at the workplace.
  • The more people you have the more cost effective our services.”16
  • employee_vacNumber of sick employees (based on percentage entered)  50

    Amount employer would pay per sick employee (based on an average of 4 sick days). $461.54

    Cost of NOT vaccinating $23,077

    Cost of vaccinating $7800 17.

  • The cost of NOT vaccinating is calculated using the average employee pay-per-day multiplied by 4, the average number of days they would be out sick with the flu. This number is then multiplied by 2 to account for the number of additional co-workers who may become infected with the flu.

  • The cost of vaccinating 30% of your employees is calculated by multiplying the number of employees by the cost per flu shot.

Could an employer be forcing a vaccine on its employees because they already paid one of these companies for the vaccine, anticipating sick-time cost…Or is it really about protecting employees, the public, and immune compromised patients?

Speaking of profit- how about all those deals at supermarkets providing free flu shots or discounts for getting the vaccine? Edith Rosato, senior vice president of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, explains that flu shots are an important public service as well as an effective way to gain customer business. “Everyone is trying to drive customers into the store to get their flu vaccine and then hopefully build customer loyalty” so they will buy other products as well, she says.18 Perfect reason to get the flu vaccine into the store: to boost profits.

Does anyone care about the people? Does the FDA and WHO have our best interests in mind or is it all big business? Remember the controversial link between US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the company Gilead who produces Tamiflu? Rumsfeld was Gilead’s chairman and still owns stock in the company. The WHO recommended world governments to set up immunization programs and stockpile drugs in the event of a pandemic, making Rumsfeld $5 millions of dollars in profit.19

The media has been urging Americans for years to vaccinate. Ok, perhaps the vaccine is not 100% effective, but what harm can come? Check out this video from CBS’ 30 Minutes aired in 1979 on the use of ‘media scare machine’ and potential neurological disorders, including Guillain-Barre Syndrome, from the flu vaccine. The rationale to immunize was based on fear of an upcoming epidemic, with NO confirmed cases of swine flu (despite false accusations from the media). A consent form given to the public listed no severe side effects from the flu vaccine; however, the form was based on a different vaccine that was created, not the vaccine that was given to 46 million of Americans. The vaccine that was given was never field tested! A leading physician who was involved in the CDC found “there was literature of possible neurological disorders associated with influenza vaccination.”20 These reports were ignored by those distributing the vaccine. 4,000 people were affected, resulting in 3.5 billion dollars of damages. The greatest number of claims (2/3) were for neurological damage or death allegedly triggered from the vaccine. Times have not changed much and history has a trend in repeating itself. Today, with the fear of the influenza vaccine shortage, there is now a new vaccine created from insect cells that is being created in two months instead of the normal six. It is approved in adults from 18-49 and has been used in vaccines approved for other infectious diseases, being 44.6% effective against all influenza strains.21

What about the risks to our children? The 2011-2012 inactivated influenza vaccine VIS (vaccine information statement) states that, “young children (aged 12-23 months) who get inactivated flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13) at the same time appear to be at increased risk for seizures caused by fever.” However, because there are risks associated with delaying either of these vaccines, the Advisory Committee on Immunication Practices (ACIP) does not recommend administering them at separate visits or deviating from the recommended vaccine schedule in any way. “Febrile seizures are not uncommon, occurring in 2% to 5% of all children; and they are generally benign.”24 I am not sure about you, but I see seizures as a very serious issue in children and any risk should be avoided at all costs- especially because the influenza vaccine has not been shown to be effective in this age group.

Granted, the vaccine is a work of science in the making. I do not subscribe to the thought that the policies in place are all based on profits or a corrupt government/media; however, there is more evidence of public manipulation over fear of the flu epidemic than actual cases of confirmed influenza or the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, and this worries me. So what does one do? Take care of your body to stay healthy in the winter season. Prevent illness by taking immune boosting supplemental herbs, eating well, and, as my dad says “wash your hands!” Wash your hands and fingernails with soap and water often and especially before eating or applying makeup/contacts (for 30 seconds, antibacterial not needed); dress for the weather and wear a scarf to cover up sensitive neck areas; take immune system vitamins like Wellness Formula or Jade Screen Powder pills (Yu Ping Feng San) to prevent an infection (stop if you have caught something); avoid touching your eyes, nose, or 

cover

mouth; avoid contact with those who are sick; use alcohol wipes or disinfectant on public phones/doorknob

s/light switches/toilet; take off your shoes at home to prevent germs from coming inside; take care of your body by de-stressing, eating lots of fruits and veggies and warm soups, getting lots of rest, drinking lots of water, and doing moderate exercise like yoga or tai chi/qi gong and ankle and wrist rolls to help your internal organs. If you do get sick, take measures to boost you immune system and know that the illness will go away in a few days; cover nose and mouth while coughing with the elbow or wear a mask; and stay home until recovered. Perhaps try a Hot Toddie or vodka with juice as the alcohol may kill the virus.22 If you have serious complications like shortness of breath, ear infection, bronchitis or pneumonia then see a trained health practitioner and wear a mask. Also, see my link on Flu Prevention and Chinese Medicine remedies for the flu.23 Take care, be well, and remember relax!

References:

1. http://focusonline.ca/?q=node/447

2. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm#whomap

3. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=flu-shots-may-not-protect-the-elderly-or-the-very-young&page=2

4. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_psychogenic_illness#section_3

5. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323442804578235640111853594.html

6. wellness.unl.edu/wellness_documents/stress_less-welcoa.pdf

7. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2013/01/03/goshen-hospital-employees-fired-flu-shot_n_2404328.html

8. www.acsh.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/…/20091111_ai_8.5×11.pdf

9. http://www.nvic.org/Vaccines-and-Diseases/Influenza.aspx

10. http://focusonline.ca/?q=node/447

11. http://seattle.cbslocal.com/2012/09/19/study-people-getting-flu-shot-more-likely-to-get-swine-flu/

12. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-flu.pdf

13. http://focusonline.ca/?q=node/447

14. http://m.fampra.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/09/18/fampra.cms059.abstract

15. http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/tamiflu-doesnt-offer-relief-promised-says-uga-study/

16. http://www.flushots4u.com/

17. http://www.vaxamerica.com/FluCalc.aspx

18. http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/stories/2011/october/10/pharmacists-flu-shots.aspx

19. http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_bird_flu.htm

20. http://www.examiner.com/article/cbs-60-minutes-300-death-claims-from-1976-swine-flu-vaccine-only-one-death-from-flu

21. http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/17/health/fda-flu-vaccine

22. http://moneyning.com/advice/12-tips-for-avoiding-the-flu-without-a-flu-shot/

23. http://kimboldrini.net/flu-season-prevention/

24. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/tiv-pcv-note.htm

 

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