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22 December 2003 Back to Medical Updates

If The Influenza Vaccine Is Inadequate,
What's A Person To Do?

by nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.

The public is generally expecting vaccines to prevent them from getting infections. Although there is evidence demonstrating that some vaccines can establish a permanent immunity with some diseases (such as, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, etc.), vaccines are far from adequate in the case of influenza and some other respiratory vaccines.

There are over 200 different viruses which can cause upper respiratory diseases which vary in severity from the common cold to more serious viral pneumoniae. Getting one of these infections usually results in immunity to future reinfection by the same strain. The problem is that there are many strains of these viruses. If one gets 3-4 cold-like infections per year, it might take 57 years before one would exhaust all the potential viruses.

The problem with influenza virus, is that it has the ability frequently to mutate sufficiently so that the emerging strain is resistant to the antibodies elicited by the strain causing the epidemic the season before. Some individuals getting influenza one season might be partly protected if the mutation of the emerging strain is not severe. If the mutation is severe, the emerging strain has the capacity to spread and cause a significant epidemic.

Also, when other viruses newly emerge, such as SARS (serious acute respiratory syndrome) – viruses to which humans have not been previously exposed – the effects could be devastating. These new viruses may have the capacity to spread rapidly and with high mortality.

The person who never gets sick:

Have you ever wondered why some individuals never get ill, when others get everything “coming down the pike?” Although it is important to study ill individuals, the health profession should also be studying those who almost never get sick to find out why.

Research in the field of nutrition is demonstrating what some have known all along. Our diets are key in developing and maintaining an healthy body. With increased intake of processed foods, our bodies are becoming increasingly deficient in those nutrients required to function normally and resist infections.

We have done well to discover some vitamin deficiency diseases:

Vitamin Deficiency Diseases
Vitamin A Night blidness
Vitamin B3 (niacin) Pellagra
Vitamin B12 (pyridoxine) Pernicious Anemia
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) Scurvy
Vitamin D Rickets in children; Osteoporosis in adults
Vitamin K Bleeding disorders
Iron Anemia

What about relative deficiencies of some very important minerals, such as zinc, selenium, chromium? Many of these are required to establish and maintain an healthy immune system. We are now beginning to appreciate that there are such conditions as “sub-clinical” pellagra – not due to a serious deficiency in niacin, but rather to a mild deficiency of the vitamin.

We also know that simple sugars inhibit the ability of neutrophils to phagocytize viruses and bacteria within the body. Neutrophils are those white blood cell components which search out and eat unwanted infectious agents: phago (to eat); cytize (cell).

An appropriate program of elimination of all refined sugars, and the addition of vitamins A and C, and zinc would go a long way in boosting one’s immune system. The key is the word “appropriate,” and a knowledgeable and trained nutritionist can help one determine what would be appropriate. Some individuals may require doses of supplements considerably higher than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) and monitoring may be necessary to achieve optimal results.

An healthy body and lifestyle should be able to establish within an individual a degree of natural immunity to the next infection coming down the pike. If one gets a viral infection, adjustments in supplementation would result in a milder infection than would ordinarily be the case.

Certain foods, such as milk, result in excessive mucous production in the nose and throat. This increased mucous and the resultant stagnation of the lymphatics in the area create an environment conducive to viral and bacterial growth.

Some may be concerned – and reasonably so – about using a nutritional approach and supplements to treat something like a strep throat. In this case, the more appropriate treatment would be to administer an antibiotic. It would then appear reasonable to begin a systematic program of nutrition and supplements to help build one’s natural resistance so that the next time the individual is exposed to strep s/he would be resistant to infection.

A serious problem today is the overuse of antibiotics which result in dysbiosis – a situation where the normal good bacteria of the intestinal tract (and the vaginal tract in women) are replaced by potentially pathogenic bacteria and yeast. Candidiasis, caused by an overgrowth of pathogenic yeast) is becoming an increasing medical problem because of frequent use of antibiotics. After a diagnosis is made, a program of elimination of the antibiotic, and administration of probiotics, usually in the form of cultures of Lactobacilli (yogurt), to help re-colonize the intestinal tract with non-pathogenic bacteria. Frequently, temporary use of antifungal agents may be necessary during the transition period. Additionally, there are herbal preparations which can also be used.

Another aspect of prevention: Keep away from crowds.

In the Eastern part of the United States influenza usually peaks each year sometime during the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January. It is usually over by the last week of January. One of the ways to decrease your risk of getting influenza is to decrease your exposure. The yearly custom of many individuals flocking to stores shopping for Christmas sets up a situation where all these people are exposing themselves to each other and viruses are exchanged. It takes time for a virus such as influenza to build up within the population. One infected person may infect two others. In turn these two will infect four, then in the next wave eight, and so on. Within a month there are many people infected, and soon we have an epidemic on hand.

The reverse is true as the epidemic subsides. As the epidemic reaches its peak, there becomes less susceptible people in the community. This heralds the decline in the ability of influenza to spread.

We need to change our customs. If we wish not to get influenza, we need to keep away from crowds during the season when we are expecting influenza to appear.

nicola michael c. Tauraso, M.D.
Tauraso Medical Clinic
7051 Poole Jones Road
Frederick, Maryland 21702