What is Influenza?
The flu, which can be caused by several strains of influenza, is a highly contagious and potentially deadly viral infection of the nose, throat, and lungs. The majority of cases resolve without treatment within 2 weeks. However, if left untreated, severe complications can arise, especially in high risk groups (eg, elderly, people with existing medical conditions, immunocompromised, etc.).
Influenza viruses can be classified as type A, B, or C, with numerous subtypes. The flu virus is continually mutating, making annual vaccination essential. “Flu season” generally peaks in the autumn and winter months.
Natural interventions such as vitamin D and vitamin C may help prevent the flu and ease symptoms.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of the Flu?
- Sudden onset of high fever
- Head and body aches
- Cough, congestion
- Sore throat (not always present)
Note: The flu can be distinguished from a common cold by severity of symptoms; cold symptoms are generally mild and develop over several days, while flu symptoms are much more severe and develop within a few hours. If you suspect you have the flu, call a healthcare provider without delay.
What are Ways to Prevent the Flu?
- Get vaccinated yearly for the flu. While this does not guarantee immunity, it is the most effective and least expensive intervention.
- Wash or sanitize hands and surfaces frequently
- Stay home if you are sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Cough or sneeze directly into the crook of your elbow, not into your hand or the air
- Avoid sick people when possible or wear a mask
- Wash all linens, eating utensils, and dishes used by sick people before others use them
- Exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet
What are Conventional Medical Treatments for the Flu?
- DO NOT take antibiotics for the flu. Antibiotics will not work, and can contribute to the development of drug resistant pathogens.
- Over-the-counter drugs (eg, mild analgesics, decongestants, etc.) can provide symptomatic relief for uncomplicated cases of the flu (see the Common Cold protocol).
- Antiviral drugs:
- Baloxavir, a recently approved antiviral that inhibits mRNA synthesis
- Neuraminidase inhibitors (eg, oseltamivir [Tamiflu] and zanamivir [Relenza])
- Adamantanes (eg, amantadine [Symmetrel] and rimantadine [Flumadine])
- Ribavirin (eg, Copegus, Rebetol, Virazole) may be prescribed for highly pathogenic or resistant forms of influenza.
What are Emerging Therapies for the Flu?
- Cimetidine, a stomach acid medication, may boost the immune system and help fight off viral infections. However, patients at risk for cytokine storm (a potentially deadly overreaction of the immune system) should avoid cimetidine.
- Statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs, may help regulate immune response to the flu and reduce the risk of death in patients hospitalized for the flu.
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for the Flu?
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D has a significant role in regulating the immune system. Daily or weekly supplementation and higher vitamin D levels are associated with a decreased risk of seasonal viral infection and acute respiratory infections.
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C is required for fighting infection and has been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of colds. High doses administered before or immediately after symptom onset have been shown to lessen reported cold and flu symptoms.
- Zinc. Zinc plays an important role in maintaining healthy immune function. Supplementation may enhance the immune system and shorten the duration of some viral infections.
- Selenium. Selenium boosts the immune system and can provide protection against some pathogens. Deficiency promotes the spread of influenza, increases susceptibility to viral infection, and may be associated with significantly higher mortality rates from influenza than a selenium-supplemented diet.
- Green tea. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a component of green tea, has been shown to kill the influenza virus and decrease the viral load in blood during chronic viral infection. In addition, green tea can decrease flu-like symptoms by reducing inflammation.
- Andrographis paniculata. Andrographis has been used for its anti-viral properties in traditional Asian medicine for centuries. In a clinical trial conducted on people with the flu, andrographis sped flu recovery and reduced the risk of complications.
- Melatonin. Melatonin helps combat many types of viral infections. Its administration is associated with increased production of antibodies and may be especially helpful in elderly populations, because its concentrations decline with age.
- Other natural interventions that may aid with flu prevention and/or relieve symptoms include dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), reishi, elderberry, vitamin E, and others.