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The Flu and the Common Cold
Influenza ("The Flu") is an acute viral infection of the respiratory tract causing inflammation, sneezing, coughing, and a sore throat. It is highly contagious and is caused by 1 of 3 influenza virus strains (A, B, and C). The common cold can be caused by over 200 different viruses and produces symptoms that are generally less severe and less dangerous. The similarities and differences in the symptoms of a common cold and flu are listed in the table below.
Flu and Cold Symptoms:
Flu and Cold Treatment
While serious complications can develop, cold and flu symptoms are generally self limiting. The viruses are constantly mutating and are, therefore, somewhat unpredictable and immune compromised individuals are at increased risk. The conventional over the counter remedies do nothing to limit the duration and course of these viruses.
There are several antiviral medications that can limit the course and duration of these infections. These include amantadine and rimantadine which are active against influenza A. Oseltamivir and zanamivir are active against influenza A and B. Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) is approved to treat Type A and B influenza. It does have some contraindications and individuals with chronic heart or lung diseases, kidney disease, or other underlying high-risk conditions should use with extreme caution and only under medical advise. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bronchitis, stomach pain, dizziness, and headaches. Antiviral medications are generally more effective when given at the early onset of symptoms rather than later. They work by inhibiting viral replication rather than directly killing the viruses.
Antibiotics are useless against viral infections and may cause more harm than good. However, there may be some situations where a secondary bacterial infection gets established and antibiotic therapy is necessary. If symptoms persist too long or become too severe, one may have to consult a physician. A few symptoms that tell you that you should consider seeing your doctor are:
Flu vaccines are also available. The vaccine theory is that by introducing an "attenuated" live pathogen into the body, the body's immune system will be provoked into creating antibodies that will recognize and attack live "unattenuated" pathogens that could make you sick. Vaccination is one of the major tools of modern medicine. There are, however, concerns about the safety of vaccines. In some cases, the "attenuated" viruses turn out to be not as attenuated as believed and can actually cause an infection with all the associated consequences. Another concern is the use of mercury based preservatives in the vaccines. The fear is that there may be enough mercury present to pose a health risk, especially in infants and young children. One reason for the well publicized vaccine shortages is the reluctance of the drug companies to assume the liabillity of vaccine manufacture and distribution. Doctors are aware of the risks and adverse reactions to vaccination but believe that the benefits justify the cost. I am not suggesting that anyone avoid vaccines, I believe they can be an important medical tool when manufactured properly. I do suggest doing some additional research on the controversial aspects and being well informed.
Natural methods of treatment and prevention of flu is based largely on the maintenance, support, and creation of a healthy immune system. There are a variety of supplements, herbs, and neutraceuticals that can boost and support the immune system.
Preventive Measures for Colds and Flu
The cold and flu viruses can be spread by inhaling the virus laden water vapor particles that are produced by an infected individuals cough. In the presence of highly virulent outbreaks, a germicidal breathing mask is quite justified.
Viral transmission by hand contact may be even more of an infection route, especially for children. The solution is frequent washing of hands with soap and warm water.
Another preventive measure is a personal stress management system. Stress suppresses the immune system and makes one vulnerable to infections. A stress management system is beyond the scope of this page but is vitally important to maintaining good health and avoiding the bugs. For more info on stress, read Stress
Another measure is to allow your body to develop a fever. Viruses do not reporduce at higher body temperatures. A fever with elevated temperature is one of the body's defense mechanisms. Using fever reducing medications will relieve the symptom but can suppress your body's natural defenses. As long as your temperature does not exceed the 102-103 range, you are generally better off to drink a lot of liquid, take your nutritional immune boosters, go to bed, and sweat it out.
The use of nutritional supplements to support immune function may reduce the incidence, duration, and severity of infections in general. Having the immune system working at peak efficiency before getting sick is far more effective than waiting until getting sick.
Nutritional Supplements to Support Immune Function
Basic immune system function can be boosted dramatically by supplementing Vitamins A, C, and Zinc. This combination is particularly beneficial in supporting immune function, is relatively inexpensive, and works better than many herbs and other products.
Vitamin CRecommended dosage for vitamin C is 2,000 to 3,000 mg. per day in divided doses, preferrably in a buffered form. For more information on vitamin C, read Vitamin C
Vitamin AVitamin A is an important nutrient in the normal function of the immune system. Pregnant women and young children should not take high doses of vitamin A. For more information on vitamin A, read Vitamin A
ZincRecommended doses for zinc are 50-75 mg. per day in divided doses. For more information on zinc, read Zinc
There are three substances sold as nutritional supplements that have known antiviral properties. They may have some beneficial effects in preventing or mitigating the consequences of cold and flu infections. These are Coconut oil, BHT ,and St. John's Wort.
Coconut OilCoconut oil is about fifty percent lauric acid. Lauric acid is believed to dissolve the protective lipid coating around some viruses and make them more vulnerable to attack by the immune system. The recommended dose is a minimum of one ounce per day. For more information on Coconut Oil, read Coconut Oil
BHTBHT is a synthetic antioxidant that is used as a food preservative. BHT is believed to dissolve the protective lipid coating around some viruses and make them more vulnerable to attack by the immune system. The dosage that has been claimed to be efective in suppressing herpes family virus outbreaks is from 500 to 3000 mg. per day. For more information on BHT, read BHT
St. John's WortSt. John's Wort is a common herb that is used as an antidepressant and has also demonstrated some antiviral properties. St. John's Wort should not be used by anyone taking any perscription antidepressant medications or certain aids medications. For more information on St. John's Wort, read St. John's Wort
N-Acetyl-CysteineN-Acetyl-Cysteine is an amino acid that has antioxidant and immune stimulating properties. In addition, it helps break up mucus and expel it from the lungs. For more information on N-Acetyl Cysteine, read N-Acetyl Cysteine