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Should I Get The Flu Shot?

It’s time again to ponder the flu immunization. When it comes to flu shots, I take a far more conventional approach than many patients at WholeHealth Chicago expect of a doctor who considers himself alternative/integrative. After reviewing some of the popular online alternative medicine newsletters warning people away from flu shots, it’s my sense that the most frequent piece of advice seems to be “…and here’s MY product you can buy instead.”

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 won’t 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.

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. Maybe 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. Very few people have a true allergic reaction to eggs (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 Thimerosal, which contains 25 micrograms of mercury, is used as a flu vaccine preservative. A microgram is a millionth of a gram, such a minute amount that it’s cleared out by your liver and is harmless. I wrote at length about mercury and the flu shot issue in a Health Tip a few years ago. It includes this personal story:

I clearly remember that my medical group 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 victims were mainly 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 this many patients dying before your eyes can alter your perspective about flu immunization.

  • I never get a flu shot and I’ve never had the flu. You’ve apparently got an immune system like a long-range missile protection program. Since there’s no government mandate to be immunized, you can continue as-is. Here’s hoping your luck holds.

What about Tamiflu?
I once recommended my patients take the prescription antiviral Tamiflu, but enough research has now been completed to show that the risks of Tamiflu–including nausea, headaches, and mental confusion–and related antiviral Relenza don’t outweigh the benefits.

To this day, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends using Tamiflu during outbreaks, although there have been virtually no studies documenting effectiveness. At very best, Tamiflu reduces the duration of symptoms by anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. However, using Tamiflu does not seem to thwart the spread of flu among family members, prevent complications (like pneumonia), or reduce hospitalizations. When researchers wanted to review the clinical trials conducted by Roche Labs, Tamiflu’s manufacturer, they were denied access to the data. Clearly, this does not inspire confidence in Tamiflu.

Here’s a link discussing the recent problems with Tamiflu.

Preventing and treating the flu
Remember that all strains of the flu virus are airborne, spread by the invisible droplets people shower onto you and nearby surfaces when they cough, sneeze, and touch. As flu season approaches, here are some tips:

  • 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 and the person behind you is coughing mightily, change seats. Avoiding crowded spaces like buses, planes, and elevators also helps.
  • Wash your hands and don’t touch mucous membranes Viruses also spread from surfaces, including skin, health club equipment, 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 keyboard, mouse, remote, or StairMaster and then inadvertently rub the mucous membranes of your nose or your eyes with your own hand.
  • When you cough, do so into the crook of your arm rather than into your hand. A few years back, billboards throughout Toronto taught their citizenry this helpful technique.
  • Clean with isopropyl alcohol Purchase an inexpensive bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol from the drugstore and regularly wipe down remotes, keyboards, laptops, and desks.
  • Boost your immune system by taking these two supplements throughout the flu season:

Host Defense, an extraordinarily popular and effective blend of immune-stimulant mushrooms. Clinical mycology is the study of the medical benefits of mushrooms, used for more than 5,000 years to prevent and treat disease. Weighty textbooks and medical journals are devoted to this topic. Host Defense, formulated by well-known mycologist Paul Stamets, is a blend of about 15 immune-boosting mushrooms. Take one capsule twice daily for the rest of the flu season.

Vitamin D. Ideally, you want blood levels of around 40-60 ng/ml (nanograms per milliliter). You could ask your doctor to measure your level, but it’s not necessary. The days are getting shorter here in the northern hemisphere and I haven’t seen a full day’s sunlight for a week, so it’s safe to assume your vitamin D is low. We know that low levels of D affect your immune system’s ability to fight anything–from viruses to cancer–so just take 2,000 IU of D daily. There’s no danger of overdose.

  • If you feel you’re coming down with any viral respiratory infection, start ViraClear 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. Other useful natural treatments for flu include black elderberry (sold as Sambucol) and the homeopathic Oscillococcinum. Personally, were I coming down with flu, I’d use them.

If we have an epidemic here in Chicago, WholeHealth Chicago patients shouldn’t bother making an office appointment. You’ll just infect everyone around you. Rest at home, push fluids, take ibuprofen, and start Sambucol and/or Oscillococcinum. Expect to feel really crummy for a few days before slowly improving. Keep in touch with your primary doc by e-mail through the Portal System. If after a week you suddenly worsen dramatically (high fever, deep cough), check into an immediate care center or emergency room as you may have developed a bacterial infection like pneumonia, the most common complication of flu.

Oh, and if you need a flu shot, simply call the office (773-296-6700) and schedule a “flu shot only.”

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Posted in Blog, F, Knowledge Base, S Tagged with: , , ,
14 comments on “Should I Get The Flu Shot?
  1. Mery Krause says:

    Thanks to this article, Dan and I will be getting our flu shot this month, even though I have never gotten one before, and Dan only got one after his heart surgery last year as a precaution, BUT we are getting older, which puts us at greater risk. We did get the flu the first winter we were here in Asheville so I guess our immune systems are not perfect. Thanks for your expert advice personal experience story.

  2. Joanne says:

    I am puzzled by reference to Thimerosal use as vaccine preservative. I thought that had ended a few years ago.

  3. Sarah Hemmer says:

    I’ve avoided the flu shot ever since I turned 50, when walk-in clinics would no longer give me the flu mist up the nose (considered “dangerous” for people over 50 — don’t ask me why — I was fine after getting it, no biggie). The shot gives me a “frozen shoulder,” like bursitis, for about 2 weeks — very unpleasant, painful, and off-putting. Finally, I got a prescription for the mist, took it to a walk-in clinic, and they happily gave me the mist. I’m now protected for the season, and no Thimerosal reaction from a shot.

  4. Ann Raven says:

    Hey there! I just got the super flu shot for geezers and I haven’t had any shoulder pain at all, nor any systemic discomfort. Just get the shot and don’t worry about it anymore!

  5. Imran says:

    I got the flu shot in college and got the flu. Never got the flu shot since and never got the flu after that despite co-workers all around me getting it.

    Nonetheless, having my first child this December and I’m going to get it. What convinced me was reading your previous post on this last week and about herd immunity and the risk you expose a baby to. Any thoughts on the risks to newborns and herd immunity? Thanks!

  6. JennyL says:

    As a family we are all about natural health. We take probiotics, parasite herbs, and food-derived vitamins to build immunity.

    We had a good friend who decided to get the flu shot a few years back and had a very severe effect from the shot. His situation caused us to investigate further and we came across the research done by other countries. We found studies on MedScape that showed “causal association” between the flu shot and neurological conditions like narcolepsy. Multiple studies were conducted in Sweden, Finland, and England and they found the same results.

    We do not take any shots and continue to build our immunity. We have had amazing results! Best in health to all.

  7. Dr E says:

    Hi Joanne
    Thimerosal has been phased out of all childhood vaccines but still used in flu vaccine. However, non-thimerosal flu vaccines are readily available at many immunization locations

  8. Shalini says:

    Dr. E.
    I am curious as to you thoughts regarding flu shots and children. I have a four year old who is relatively healthy. With all of the conflict over autisim, neurological effects, etc. I’m left confused. Thanks!

  9. Dr E says:

    Hi Shalini
    The main concern about autism and neurological effects from vaccines concerns the presence of a mercury compound called thimerosal. Although numerous studies have failed to demonstrate a connection between autism and thimerosal, the very vocal anti-immunization groups have left parents very confused. In order to deal with this issue AND to make sure kids were appropriately immunized, the vaccine manufacturers have removed thimerosal from childhood vaccines. Pediatricians do recommend flu vaccines for kids older than 6 months and to alleviate thimerosal concerns, there’s flu vaccine in which it was never added in the first place.
    Hope this helps.

  10. Lilian Bestman says:

    Am having amenorrhea for yrs now,trying to get pregnant while talking chasteberry and folic acid.pls it work .

  11. Gina Pera says:

    Hi Dr. E. — Very helpful information, as usual.

    I have to ask, though….homeopathy?????

  12. Eric Green says:

    Unfortunate I found very little information in this article about the actual benefits of getting a flu shot. The author forgot to get it one year (several decades ago,) ended up getting the flu (it was an epidemic and the author is a doctor, is there proof that getting the flu shot would have changed the outcome? Never getting sick again is not proof,) and now gets it every year. Why? Out of fear?

    I have never had a flu shot, but I’m open to it. I’m am not up in arms about possible side effect, but I have also not been properly convinced that it’s a benefit either. I read this because I enjoy the advice here and wanted more information on why I should get the shot. I found much information dispelling the silly reasons people don’t get it, but little on why I should. I wouldn’t mind a bit of the latter.

  13. Stephanie says:

    My husband, for the second year was required to get the flu shot for work. He, for the second year, within days was sick and has a massive cold sore from the top of his lip all the way up the side of his nose. We are now confident that the sore and illness is from the flu shot. Why will no doctors admit this is the cause. It is obvious. Finally his employer believes him and said he doesn’t have to have ne next year.

  14. Paula Sims says:

    What about the chances of Guillain-Barre Syndrome? Have a friend whose husband has it and they suspect it was his flu shot. Yes, the chances are slim, but when it’s you, that’s 100%.

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