When it comes to the flu shot, I take a far more conventional approach than many WholeHealth Chicago patients expect of a doctor who considers himself alternative/integrative. It’s also worth noting that after reviewing some of the online advice warning people away from the flu shot, it’s my sense that this is frequently followed by “…and this is my product you can buy instead.”
So here’s my unvarnished recommendation.
Because we’re (still) in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, this season we’ll be facing two potentially lethal viruses, eerily named a “twindemic.” We don’t have a vaccine against Covid-19, but with the flu vaccine in your body at least you’ll potentially have some protection against the flu virus.
Granted, the flu vaccine has never been perfect. Because the flu virus changes every year, the scientists who prepare the vaccine have to take a best guess beforehand on how it will manifest itself. In a good year, about 50% of those immunized won’t get the flu and, usually, the other 50% if infected will have a milder case.
Since we really don’t know for certain the precise relationship between Covid-19 and seasonal flu (for example, does getting the flu render you more susceptible to Covid-19?), common sense tells us to get whatever protection we can. It’s certainly possible that if you’re a symptomless Covid-19 carrier and also get this year’s flu, the Covid-19 could become activated and you’d have both infections simultaneously, a seriously unpleasant thought.
This year the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending flu shots for everyone older than six months. (Yes, the CDC has recently been co-opted by the anti-science Trump administration regarding Covid-19 statistics, but the administration has not compromised the seasonal flu recommendations.)
The flu vaccine can be safely administered to infants via injection. The nasal-spray form is fine for those ages 2 to 49. For people over 65, get the higher-dose Fluzone shot to compensate for your elderly immune system.
If you need a flu shot, call the office (773-296-6700) and schedule a flu shot only. Our supplies are limited so don’t be surprised if we refer you to your nearest CVS, Walgreens, or urgent care center.
That time my wife and I had the flu for a month
I became a major advocate of the flu vaccine in 1974, when there was a flu epidemic and my wife and I forgot to get immunized. Being in health care, I got the flu quickly from one of my patients and brought it home to share. Illness-wise, we look back on that March as the most wretched month of our lives: four solid weeks housebound with fever, headaches, exhaustion, and body aches that seemed to never go away.
We’d awaken in bed wondering if we were still sick before coughing deeply and gasping for breath, muttering “Yep, still sick.” We staggered around the house. Friends left groceries at the front door. It will not surprise you to know that since 1974, neither of us has ever missed a flu shot.
And while we’ve had the occasional light case of flu despite being immunized, we’ve never been that sick again.
But what about…
Let’s review some of the arguments made by people who choose not to get a flu shot:
–I had the shot and got the flu anyway. This is possible. You may have had your shot too late in the season and thus your immune system didn’t have enough time to make antibodies. Or perhaps the vaccine didn’t target the exact flu strain that year. But at least with immunization you have a chance at protection.
–I’m allergic to eggs. For more on egg-based flu-vaccines, click here. Very few people have a true allergic reaction to eggs, which causes the sudden onset of hives and wheezing. This isn’t the same as not digesting eggs well or being egg-sensitive, which can appear as a positive result on food sensitivity testing.
–I don’t want the mercury. It’s true that Thimerosal, which contains 25 micrograms of mercury, is used in the multidose flu vaccines as a preservative. A microgram is a millionth of a gram, such a minute amount that it’s cleared out by your liver and is harmless. If you’re still agonizing about the mercury, try to find a center that uses prefilled single-dose syringes—these have no mercury at all.
–I never get a flu shot and I’ve never had the flu. You apparently have an immune system like a long-range missile protection program. Or you’re living a relatively isolated life and aren’t exposed to many other humans. Since there’s no government mandate to be immunized, it’s your choice. Here’s hoping your luck holds.
Talk about Tamiflu
The information about the antiviral Tamiflu (oseltamivir) seems to change every year. Sometimes the statistics show using it early shaves one to two days off the length of a flu illness, but sometimes it doesn’t do much of anything.
You need to take it early, at the first sign of symptoms, or don’t bother. If a family member comes down with the flu, Tamiflu may (repeat, may) prevent you from getting infected. I personally keep a fresh packet at home for a just-in-case event. If you don’t have insurance, Tamiflu costs $26 with a goodrx coupon.
Here’s some advice on Tamiflu from the Cleveland Clinic.
As you’ve probably surmised, Tamiflu is utterly useless against Covid-19.
Avoiding the flu (and Covid too)
This next section is a slightly modified version of what I wrote last year about preparing for the flu. It’s sadly ironic that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, you likely know each of these bullet points by heart because you’ve been using them to prevent the spread of Covid.
Keep in mind that all strains of the flu virus are airborne (just like Covid), spread by the invisible droplets people shower onto you and nearby surfaces when they cough, sneeze, and touch.
Trump of course knew this but decided to keep the information to himself. The medical profession will never forgive him for it, and it’s a fair assumption that neither will the families of the 200,000 who died on his watch.
Take these steps to avoid the flu and Covid too:
Step away from coughers/sneezers. One reason elementary school teachers get frequent colds is that their moist, drippy little charges lovingly cough right into their faces. If you’re at a movie (remember movies?) and the person behind you is coughing mightily, change seats. Avoiding crowded spaces like buses, planes, and elevators also helps with the flu, and we know with Covid-19 that being outside is always preferable to being inside. Sadly, the CDC just released data showing that 50% of people with new Covid-19 cases had been at a restaurant sometime during the previous two weeks. Patio, masks, social distancing all irrelevant. Bummer!
Wash your hands and don’t touch your mucous membranes. All viruses also spread from surfaces, including skin, health club equipment, phones, remote controls, and keyboards. If you see someone covering her mouth with her hand when she coughs, it’s best not to shake that hand or use her phone, computer, remote, or StairMaster and then inadvertently touch the mucous membranes of your nose or eyes with your own hand.
I carry a large box of disposable rubber gloves in the car for grocery shopping and pumping gas, but remember the gloves won’t help you if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your nose or eyes.
When you cough or sneeze, do so into the crook of your arm rather than into your hand. Yes, even if you’re wearing a mask.
Clean surfaces with isopropyl alcohol or any of the dozens of sanitizing products readily available. Purchase an inexpensive bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol from the drugstore and regularly wipe down remotes, keyboards, laptops, phones, places you touch in your car, and desks.
I’m personally using the following supplements into the flu season and until the Covid-19 pandemic ends:
–Five Defenders or Mycotake or Immunokinoko, depending on availability. These are immune-stimulating mushroom blends (one capsule twice daily).
–Vitamin C (600-1,000 mg twice daily).
–Vitamin D (5,000 IU daily).
–Zinc picolinate (50 mg once daily).
If you feel you’re coming down with any viral respiratory infection, start V Clear EPs 7630, a homeopathic remedy licensed in the US from one of Europe’s largest nutritional and herbal companies. EPs 7630 is obtained from the roots of the South African pelargonium sidoides plant and in a post-marketing survey of more than 9,000 patients was shown to reduce the severity and duration of a wide variety of viral respiratory illnesses. One published study of 103 patients showed significant symptom improvement using EPs 7360 when compared to placebo.
If we have a flu epidemic here in Chicago this year, WholeHealth Chicago patients should not bother making an office appointment. You’ll just infect everyone around you.
Instead, rest at home, push fluids, take ibuprofen, and start Oscillococcinum. Expect to feel really crummy for a few days before slowly improving. Keep in touch with your primary doc by e-mail through our portal system. Send an email request for Tamiflu ASAP if you want to try it.
If after a week you suddenly worsen dramatically (high fever, deep cough, shortness of breath), go to an immediate care center or emergency room as you may have developed a bacterial infection like pneumonia, the most common complication of flu.
I’m going to close by sharing a professional experience during a particularly terrible flu epidemic many years ago. Though nowhere near as dreadful as the Covid-19 pandemic, what I experienced then is what’s been happening to healthcare workers all over the world this year.
I was a young internist and my group had been treating a lot of elderly patients in nursing homes. At one point we realized we’d been signing one death certificate an hour for three straight days–almost 70 deaths–for nursing home patients dying of flu complications.
The deaths were mainly in older adults whose families, for one reason or another, refused to allow their parents to submit to the “dangers” of a flu shot.
I assure you that experiencing so many patients dying before your eyes can significantly alter your perspective on flu immunization.
David Edelberg, MD