Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Swine Flu Primer - myths and realities

Since the Swine Flu craze started I have been studying it and finally, have enough information to give you a feel for what to expect, what is true, what is a myth or misunderstanding and how to figure out what is happening. Here for your edification is a FAQ. Save this because as you see, you will need it this Fall also, when the swine flu might (or might not) hit hard. (Flu viruses cannot live in the heat of summer).

1. The Swine Flu virus is a new virus so you have no immunity to it. True?

Well, yes but it isn't as bad as it sounds.

A virus is different from a bacteria which used to be called a member of the plant kingdom but now has it's own kingdom. A virus is something inbetween a protein molecule and a simple form of one celled life like a bacteria. It looks kind of like a soccer ball (but is so small it cannot be seen without a very powerful microscope). A virus doesn't eat but it reproduces. That's why it doesn't exactly fit the explanation of "life" (must eat and reproduce)

The way your body recognizes a virus is by its "cover" and when a virus mutates, it changes its cover - think of a pillow - someone changes the pillow cover while you are not looking and you wouldn't recognize it as a pillow you know, would you? This is a simple explanation but without getting into the 50 dollar words, this is similar to your immune system and a mutated virus. That is, ANY mutated virus looks brand new to your body and can get you sick before you have time to make antibodies to fight it. (Antibodies latch on to each virus and disable it).

So it doesn't matter whether it's an old re-worked virus or a new one like the swine flu virus - it's all the same to your body. The body has to make new antibodies to disable it and until it gears up, you might get sick (or you might NOT get sick!). Our body's immune systems make antibodies a whole lot faster than the pharmaceuticals can make a vaccine! Thank Heavens!

2. What does "level 5" pandemic mean?

Well, that doesn't mean it's a killer flu. It doesn't really have much to do with how sick any flu virus will make you, says the CDC. On "the Doctors" TV Show, Dr Stephen Galson, acting surgeon general stated that

"The level 5 is how public health officials communicate with each other on how they will prepare for the flu as far as vaccines etc."

He added:

"The levels do not tell about the severity of the outbreak and people should not pay attention to the levels..."

3. But shouldn't I worry? There have been 2 deaths from the swine flu in the USA now!

Let's look at the 2 deaths. The first was a 22 month old baby who had "other health issues" that is he'd been ill for a while - he was born in Mexico. The second is a lady who had "chronic health issues" (something like MS or Lupus or ?).

38,000 people die each year, as a repercussion of the several flu viruses going around. Now that sounds like a lot but consider that 25 to 50 million GET the flu every year and so those who die are a very small percentage - 1.5% to less than 1% of those who get the flu.

To put this into prospective, Malaria kills 1.5 to 3 million people a year and affects 40 percent of the world's population, about 2400 million. ref: Malaria what it is

So it's not that the swine flu is necessarily deadly (it seems to be not real contagious or deadly but the public health dept has to be ready just in case) but that next flu season, some of the 38,000 deaths from the repercussions of the flu might be from the swine flu.

As Dr Frank Joseph, MD stated in a recent letter to his mailing list (and you can ask any medical provider about this - they will tell you the same thing!):

People do NOT die from the flu, it's the complications that are deadly --mostly pneumonia. In 1918, there were no antibiotics. The people who have currently died from the flu probably waited too long to seek treatment.
Personally, I do not believe in giving antibiotics for every little thing that comes along but in this case they are warranted.

Which brings us to our next question:

4. I worry that a pandemic of flu will kill thousands of people like it did in 1918.

Ever wonder why we have not had such a pandemic since? We had NO ANTIBIOTICS back in 1918. Also no indoor plumbing, no central heating and not a real good idea of vitamins or nutrition. All of which would contribute to people getting pneumonia or some other repercussion of the flu and dying. As the Junkfood science blog pointed out, we have lived through many "pandemics" since then without them killing huge numbers of people.

NOW IS DIFFERENT. Don't worry about it. Tell your friends. This is one of the biggest misconceptions I've heard from many people.

5. Can you catch the flu from a toilet seat?

OK, I'm being silly here but it got your attention, right? :) There seem to be many misconceptions about how you catch the flu. You don't catch it from shaking hands with someone or touching your dog although you can pick up bacteria that way.

Viruses travel through the air when someone coughs or sneezes. That's why flu is so contagious. Being in the same room with a person with flu will expose you.

Another misconception is that if someone coughs at you, and you go home and get sick the next day, you caught whatever that person had.

WRONG. It takes about 2 weeks for you to come down with the flu after you have been exposed to it. (So think about who coughed on you two weeks ago!)

Worse yet, the person is the MOST contagious JUST BEFORE they actually come down with the flu. Nice huh? Viruses are sneaky.

6. So what's the best thing to do if I come down with flu?

Remember the old fashioned remedy? Go to bed, drink plenty of liquids - juice not coffee (and yes vitamin C does help), get lots of rest, eat veggies. If you are a person who works out regularly (I hope you are! Exercise is the best way to help your health!) then continue to work out but do a shorter lighter work out. Why? A workout wil,l believe it or not, help you get better faster. But DO NOT OVERDO IT or you will make things worse. If you are a runner, for example, just walk slowly on the treadmill for a half hour or so.

And if it hangs on or you start getting major chest congestion, see your medical provider! Whatever you do, DO NOT IGNORE IT. This is the best way to get a bacterial infection which can be very nasty.

7. What about the flu vaccine?

Unfortunately, the last vaccine for swine flu was a disaster. The swine flu never really hit but the vaccine ended up killing about 500 or more people.

The CDC assures us that they have a good system for testing in place and the new vaccine should be safe but no one can be sure, they disclaim.

If you are a person who gets a chill and gets pneumonia, you should probably get a jab. If you are a person with a normal immune system (or reasonably normal), it's your choice.

They have announced that for Fall (the start of flu season) they cannot add the swine flu virus to the flu vaccine already in production, so they will have a separate jab or two for it. Three shots they are talking about.

"That's a hard sell" observed Meredith Vierra of "The Today Show" and the official answer was that President Obama is planning "an aggressive education of the public through TV" in favor of getting the shots. (We know President Obama can do 'aggressive TV campaigns" very well!)

In other words, expect a scare campaign from the media which makes our present scare look like kids stuff.

That's why you might need to look at this blog again to remind yourself of the myths and misconceptions.

You might also want to bookmark the National Vaccine Information site. It's your choice, remember and scare tactics are scare tactics. They rarely resemble the truth.

As for me, I took a flu shot when I was pregnant, figuring I didn't want to get the flu then. I still got the flu. I figured the flu shot didn't work and that was my last flu shot and it was a while ago, since the baby I was carrying, our son, is approaching his 40th birthday.

Which brings us to the last question...

8. Why is it that some years I get the flu vaccine and I STILL get the flu?

As I explained before, it takes the pharmaceuticals several months to make a flu vaccine. Here's how they do it. They look at Asia and see what type of flu is going around. Then, out of some 22 flu viruses available, they select 5 or 6 which they think will be THE BIG pandemic or epidemic of the coming flu season and they start making the vaccine for the Fall. That's why there will be several jabs necessary this Fall to protect against the regular AND swine flu. Because they've already picked the 5 or 6 viruses and are producing this Fall's vaccine as we speak and it would be too costly to add the swine flu virus to the vaccine in production.

But of course, as luck will have it, typically the flu which hits the hardest might not be included in the vaccine. It's kind of a game of chance whether it will be included or not. Viruses aren't that predictable unfortunately.

And of course, having the vaccine won't guarantee that another one of the unpicked viruses won't hit. That happened this year - the stomach flu virus which was a really nasty flu hit hard and had not been included in the shot so everyone got that one! (me too!)

As they say, education is our greatest tool in any fight including the fight for good health.

Also, consider a healthy lifestyle - not for weight or size but just for health! I know - that's a strange concept. Bear with me. :) You know, no fast or junk food, no chemicals like aspartame, lots of veggies and EXERCISE.

Some must reading on influenza and scares
Swine Flu update April 29, 2009 - scare tactics and reality

All humanity under threat - not really - Junk Food Science blog