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Fighting the flu

KIMBERLY NICOLETTI
Summit Daily/Reid Williams High Country Health Care's Ann St. Louis, an EMT and nursing student, prepares an injection Thursday at the Dillon clinic. Caregivers around Summit County will soon be doling out flu vaccinations to fend off the winter bug.
Reid Williams / Summit Daily

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Last year Colorado made national headlines about nasty influenza symptoms and an increased death rate from the disease.

This year, local clinics are preparing for the flu season by offering vaccinations within the next couple of weeks; last year, flu season hit early ” before December and January, when it usually peaks, said Dr. Jim Oberheide from High Country Health Care in Dillon.

While doctors recommend flu shots, many alternative medicine practitioners suggest natural remedies and prevention.

Getting your flu shot

Dr. Laurie Schwanitz, a pediatrician at Dillon’s High Country Health Care, recommends everyone 6 months and older receive a flu shot, unless they have a severe egg allergy.

She strongly recommends it for children who were born prematurely or who have heart disease, asthma or immune deficiencies, though parents should consult with their doctor first.

“Older people who have been exposed to influenza already are more likely to mount an immune response. The vaccination helps promote an immune response in children who haven’t been exposed as much,” Schwanitz said.

Studies have shown that healthy children under the age of 2 are at increased risk for flu-related hospitalization compared with older, healthy children. Because of this increased risk, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all children 6 to 23 months of age get vaccinated.

The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the influenza vaccine for children younger than 6 months.

“Statistical analysis done on thousands of people have shown that 80 percent of people vaccinated won’t get the flu and 99 percent will have a milder case,” Dr. Chris Ebert-Santos said during last year’s epidemic. “Kids and people older than 50 are more susceptible to complications like pneumonia and dehydration from the flu.”

The vaccinations take at least two weeks to become effective in adults and six weeks in children. Some people who have never had a flu shot may experience short-lasting flu-like symptoms. Flu shots, however, cannot cause the flu, because they don’t contain live viruses.

About 100 million doses of influenza vaccine will be available this year in the United States. In fact, the CDC has almost doubled the quantity of vaccines it will have on hand this season since last year was so bad.

Many doctors encourage older people and those with comprised immune systems to get flu shots because the sixth leading cause of death in the United States is infection of the lungs caused by bacteria and complications of the flu, and 80 percent of people who die from the flu are more than 60 years old, according to the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, an organization that provides unbiased, research-based information.

“Vaccination’s greatest impact is reducing the severity of symptoms and the need for hospitalization,” said Dr. David Neumann, director of the National Coalition for Adult Immunization.

Or maybe not

Healthcare practitioners who focus on natural remedies tend to be more conservative when it comes to flu shots, even in the case of children.

Both naturopaths Justin Pollack and Kimberly Nearpass and acupuncturist and herbalist Lynne Drakos only recommend flu shots for people who are exposed to a large amount of virus ” such as someone in a nursing home ” or people who have a weakened immune system because of cancer, AIDS or other diseases.

“With kids, it depends on the environment they’re in,” Nearpass said. “If they’re not in daycare and exposed to the crud 40 hours a week, and if they’re breastfed and have a well-rounded diet, then there’s not as much of a reason to get vaccinated because they’re at less risk for exposure and they’re already developing their immune system rapidly.”

Flu shots can compromise a body’s natural defenses system.

“Your body’s defenses won’t be as effective if you continue to get vaccinated against the flu,” Drakos said.

“You can look at the immune system like any other system in the body ” it needs a good workout every once in awhile to stay fit,” Pollack said. “It’s the old ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy. I try to encourage people to build their immunity naturally with antiviral, homemade soups, herbs and more hydration.”

Acquiring regular viruses is an important way to develop the immune system, Nearpass said.

“If you deprive kids of that natural exposure, it may inhibit the natural development of their immune system,” she said. “The vaccine is rapidly injected into the blood stream, so it’s not going through the normal channels of the respiratory sysptem ” the respiratory tissue and saliva ” so you’re bypassing other important defense layers.”

The health care practioners suggest avoiding sugar, which creates an acidic state in the body and depresses the immune system, and exercising.

Meeting of the minds

One thing everyone completely agrees on is the importance of hand-washing.

Influenza spreads through respiratory droplets released into the air when someone sneezes or coughs, or in small amounts of fluid left behind on public countertops, hand-rails and so on.

One of the best defenses involves washing hands frequently to kill viruses picked up by touching contaminated surfaces. A person also should avoid touching his or her eyes, nose and mouth, because that’s where viruses enter the body.

Good nutrition and other basic health practices help keep the immune system strong.

And, people who are sick should cover their nose and mouth with a tissue every time they cough or sneeze. (Then, of course, throw the nasty thing away.) If they don’t have a tissue, sneezing or coughing into their sleeve prevents respiratory droplets from transferring from hands to public surfaces. Don’t share personal items, and wash hands frequently.

“If you do get the flu, it’s a good idea to stay home, as the flu is very contagious,” said Roberta Smith, who works at the state health department.


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