Flu Alert: How to Prep For a Bad Season
Flu Alert: How to Prep For a Bad Season
By Dr. Bill Rawls Posted 01-19-2018

The 2017-2018 flu season is turning out to be one of the worst in years. Though the CDC recommends that everyone get a flu vaccine—especially young children and the elderly, who are most vulnerable—it provides much less protection than you might expect. In a good year, a flu shot is only 39% effective.

This year, vaccine efficacy could be as low as 10%.

Here’s why, and how to protect yourself.

The Flu Vaccine’s Achilles’ Heel

One reason a flu vaccine can be so ineffective is that the influenza virus is highly adaptable. Every time a virus enters a new host, it changes ever so slightly. As the virus spreads from one person to another, it’s constantly changing. By the time an influenza virus has circulated around the world, it has become a whole new strain of virus.

There are three types of influenza virus that can infect humans. Types A and B are the ones most associated with severe illness and epidemics. Type C generally causes only mild illness and is not associated with epidemics.

In addition to types, there are subtypes — the most common are two subtypes of influenza A called H1N1 and H3N2 and two subtypes of influenza B. Because the virus is always changing, there is an almost infinite number of strains of each subtype. Multiple strains of multiple subtypes can be circulating all at once — but generally, one or a few strains dominate.

Researchers are constantly trying to figure out which strains might be dominant in an effort to match them with the current vaccine. Because influenza viruses thrive in cooler, dry weather, they tend to follow the seasons from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere and back again. Which explains why experts keep an eye on the dominant strains in the Australian flu season: They can be useful for predicting which strains might be dominant in the upcoming Northern Hemisphere flu season.

It’s an educated guessing game that doesn’t always work out. While the current strains of influenza H1N1 and influenza B are mild and respond well to the flu vaccine, a severe strain of H3N2 that doesn’t respond well to the vaccine is dominant this year. It’s being dubbed “Aussie Flu,” because it has already wreaked havoc in Australia during their winter season.

Considering that the flu vaccine used this year in Australia was found to be only 10% effective, and the same stubborn virus is dominant in the Northern Hemisphere this season, we can expect similar low effectiveness.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways to protect yourself.

How To Fend Off The Flu

The most effective protection against flu is strict isolation from individuals who are infectious—not super practical. People who are infectious don’t always know it, and even when they do, they often don’t have the luxury of staying home.

If you work, socialize, and carry on about life with other people during flu season, you are at risk whether you get the flu vaccine or not.

Simple hand washing reduces spread of illness, but does not eliminate it. Healthcare workers, daycare workers, teachers, and workers in the food industry should be particularly vigilant about regular hand washing. Waterless hand sanitizers can be as effective as washing with soap and water.

Short of staying walled up inside your house for three months, your best protection against the flu is maintaining a healthy immune system. People with a strong immune system are much less apt to become severely ill if they contract the flu, but also less likely to become ill at all.

A healthy immune system stems from a combination of factors, including having a healthy diet, clean environment, and low-stress level as well as getting plenty of restful sleep and invigorating exercise. Many people have found that herbal therapy is an excellent way to support the immune system during cold and flu season. Scientific studies show that many herbs support immune system functions.

Vitamin D is also essential for normal immune function. During winter, when sun exposure is limited, supplementation becomes important. Having your vitamin D levels checked at a doctor’s office at the beginning of cold and flu season is a good practice. Often, taking 5,000-10,000 IUs daily is necessary to maintain optimal levels.

What To Do If You Get Sick

If you do come down with the flu, the best first step is staying in bed—and away from other people. Taking a break from both activity and stress is the most effective way to recover, and a short quarantine helps minimize the spread of the virus. Below are seven more ways to help speed your recovery.

1. Drink lots of fluids. Warm fluids such as hot tea are particularly beneficial. Try this recipe made with fresh ginger, which has proven antiviral properties and also soothes an upset stomach.

Peel a large piece of fresh ginger with a carrot peeler. Slice or chop it into small pieces—enough to make a large handful. Fill a large pot with a ½ gallon of spring water and place it over high heat to bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain out the chunks of ginger. Sweeten with honey, stevia, or sugar and drink warm or cool several times a day.

2. Take vitamin C, 1,000 mg up to four times daily. Ester-C or buffered vitamin C is easiest on an upset stomach.

3. Take herbal therapy to support your immune system.

4. Apple cider vinegar can work extremely well for breaking up mucus. Mix 2 tablespoons with 8 ounces of water and 1-2 teaspoons of local honey, and drink several times per day.

5. Reduce your intake of food to allow your body’s resources to shift toward healing. Chicken noodle soup, though cliché, is actually an excellent choice for colds and flu.

6. Inhaling steam before bedtime can be beneficial for soothing mucous membranes in the nasal cavity. To give it a try, place 10 drops of concentrated essential oils and/or dry herbs in a large bowl and pour in boiling water. Place a towel over your head and move your head over the bowl to create a tent. Breathe deeply and slowly. Oils to consider include eucalyptus (it’s antimicrobial and soothing to tissues), peppermint (to ease muscle spasm), lavender (calming) and pine. These same essential oils can be used in a soothing hot bath.

7. If taken early on, antiviral drugs can reduce severity and duration of illness. The three currently available drugs include oseltamivir (generic, or by trade name Tamiflu®), zanamivir (trade name Relenza®), and peramivir (trade name Rapivab®). Oseltamivir is available as a pill or liquid. Zanamivir is available as an inhaled powder. Peramivir is available as a single intravenous injection at a healthcare provider’s office. Effectiveness is limited only to influenza type viruses and will not benefit viral syndromes caused by other types of viruses.

Whether or not you got the flu vaccine this year, these tips should help you sidestep the virus or at least minimize the symptoms if you do catch it. But here’s hoping you and your loved ones have a flu-free season!

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Fourteen-time #1 New York Times Bestselling Author

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About the Medical Director
Dr. Bill Rawls
Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.
  • Dr. Bill Rawls


    Dr. Rawls’ groundbreaking approach to wellness comes from decades of practicing medicine, extensive research in alternative therapies, and firsthand experience helping thousands find their path to wellness. Dr. Rawls is a best-selling author, Medical Director and Co-Founder of Vital Plan, a holistic health company and Certified B Corporation.

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