Influenza can have a very serious effect on the very young and old and those who have poorly functioning immune systems. As we head into October I am going to repeat my series on winterising the body.
The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed more people than the First World War. Between 20 and 40 million people died and because the figures were so horrendous we may never know the true extent of this awful two-year period. Very few countries were spared and its effects on an already devastated world population were horrendous. It was called the Spanish Flu because the earliest mortalities were in Spain were over 8 million people died.
Anywhere that soldiers or refugees gathered in large numbers became infected and the early outbreaks were largely ignored. Returning soldiers from the front brought the disease home to every city, town and village. Most of the populations throughout Europe were poorly nourished following the war years and were in no condition to fight off this virulent infection especially as there were none of the drugs that we have available today.
How ironic to have survived the war years, including years in the trenches to then succumb to an infection. They estimate that over a fifth of the world’s population was infected and those most at risk appear to have been between the ages of 20 and 40. The exact same age as those that fought for four hard years on various battlefronts. 28% of Americans were infected and over 675,000 Americans died. Of the US soldiers who died in Europe half were killed by influenza.
The initial cause of the outbreak has never been established. The theory was that conditions in the trenches and the use of chemicals such as mustard gas created the environment where the infection thrived. There have been links to unusually humid weather, which certainly created the perfect environment to foster viral and bacterial infections amongst sick, injured and immune suppressed soldiers and the medical staff who cared for them.
We have never seen anything like this since, but these figures illustrate that we cannot take these infections lightly and with the current threat of more virulent pathogens crossing the species barrier and taking advantage of our modern travel patterns, we need to take our own health seriously and look at ways to prevent infection.
What is influenza (Flu)
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. In a person with a strong immune system the symptoms may be very mild with a headache, feverishness, sore throat, muscle aches and a runny nose. In very young children or in elderly patients there can also be gastric complications with vomiting and diarrhoea.
If left untreated or if a person has very little resistance to infection there can be complications including pneumonia. Dehydration is a problem that can exacerbate existing problems such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes.
How do we catch the flu?
The virus is spread in respiratory drops caused by coughing and sneezing although it is possible to catch the virus after touching contaminated surfaces and then passing the virus to the nose or mouth as with the common cold.
One of the problems with the flu is that you can infect someone else a day before you show the symptoms which gives you 24 hours to put others at risk at work, in schools or on public transport. Who of us has not sat next to someone on a plane for a few hours while they cough and splutter the way on holiday? An infected person is still contagious for five days after their symptoms have appeared. This usually means that it is very difficult to avoid contagion within a family where you live together in a close knit unit.
How do we prevent infection
The same rules apply for the flu as for the common cold that I covered yesterday. Your main form of defense is the simple act of washing your hands frequently. It is also essential to limit your contact with people who are obviously suffering from an infection. As I have just mentioned this is difficult due to the nature of the progression of the influenza, that 24 hour window when there are no symptoms can result in multiple infections.
One answer during the flu months of October, November, December, January and February is to stop kissing and shaking hands with friends and family when you meet them. My mother when she hit 90 had a couple of colds one after the other and I put a ban on her usual habit of kissing everyone she met… For the next five years she did not get one cold. She also had an alcohol based hand sanitizer that she used when going out and after meeting people.
Also in the UK everyone over 65 can have an annual flu shot as can the carers of vulnerable groups. My mother had this every year and it obviously helped. There is some controversy over the vaccine and its safety. It is a decision you need to make after discussing with your doctor but my opinion on the subject is that certainly for those in their mid-70’s and 80’s the risk of the disease is greater than the jab…
The flu shot that is available from the autumn onwards. The vaccine contains killed virus and can be given to anyone over 6 months old.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections not viral infections, so going to your doctor and asking for them is not going to help. However, antibiotics do play a role in the spread of infectious diseases. Since their first use for the general public in the late 40’s and 50’s, antibiotics have been regarded as a cure-all. As a child living in South Africa in the early 60’s I suffered six bouts of tonsilitis over the period of a year until my tonsils were removed. Within six months I had gained nearly 42lbs and it began a lifelong battle with my weight until I reached 330lbs 22 years ago. It is a story that I have heard hundreds of times as I work with clients who are overweight, suffer from repeated infections and who suffer from specific food intolerances (not allergies).
Antibiotics are usually broad spectrum and therefore have a shotgun approach to killing bacteria responsible for infection…In the past and sadly far too often in the present, doctors do not take a urine, blood sample or swab to send off for testing to determine the specific bacteria causing the infection and will therefore prescribe the generalised formula antibiotic for that broad type of infection.
This results in a shock wave of bacterial death which does not only kill harmful bacteria but can devastate colonies of our beneficial bacteria in the chemical soup that is essential for life and health.
This includes the absolutely critical good bacteria in our intestines (the gut brain) where all our food is processed for nutrients and passed back into the bloodstream to keep us healthy. So, repeated doses of antibiotics regularly to treat minor bacterial infections as well as erroneously for viral infections will compromise not just your health but your immune system which is your first line of defense.
Obviously, this does not mean that if you are currently taking a course of antibiotics prescribed for you by your doctor you suddenly stop.. If it is for a bacterial infection it is crucial that you always complete the course. If you stop because you feel better you are setting yourself up for reinfection because pockets of the disease have not been killed off. This will mean that within a short space of time you will need another course of drugs.
Non-completion of antibiotic prescribed courses is one of the leading causes of more serious infections taking hold in the body.
There are a number of natural anti-bacterial and viral preparations that can help particularly if you have a healthy immune system. These include the foods I mentioned in previous post.
Those most at risk of getting influenza
The most at risk are 65 years old and over because they are more likely to have medical conditions that put them at risk of infection.
People who live in long term care facilities or hospitals.
A person of any age who is already suffering from a pre-existing condition such as heart disease or asthma.
Anyone on long term medication or repeated courses of antibiotics.
Children between the ages of 6 months and 24 months.
Anyone who is on assisted respiratory machinery.
For healthy people there is the option of a nasal spray that contains live but weakened flu viruses that do not actually cause the flu but stimulate the antibodies needed to protect against the full strength influenza virus.
It is very important that your immune system is as strong as it needs to be before the winter months. Apart from avoiding contact with those you know to be infected you have to guard against those people who are not showing symptoms. You will have no idea who has the virus or not so your best line of defense is to ensure your body is strong enough to fix the problem fast.
A REMINDER OF SOME BASIC RULES TO AVOID INFECTION.
- If you have the infection then do cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and discard hygienically straightaway.
- Wash your own hands with soap and water at every opportunity or use a specific alcohol based hand cleaner.
- Avoid touching your own eyes, nose or mouth to avoid re-infection.
Next time how to help the body recover from colds and influenza and some recipes for immune boosting soups that are tasty too. Following that a post on alternative ways to boost your immune system
©sally cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2018
My nutritional background
I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.
You can find all my books here with links to Amazon: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2018/
You can find the other posts in the Health Column in this directory:
Thanks for dropping in and hope this has proved helpful. Thanks Sally