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Flu shot

Study Finds Simple, Safe, Non-Shot Strategies Prevent Flu

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: flu shot, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) If you assume health news reports from the mainstream media are accurate, you may believe it takes a yearly influenza vaccine shot to avoid the misery of coming down with the flu. You may also think flu shots are effective. The truth is, even the flu shot-promoting Centers for Disease Control (CDC) admit there has to be a close match between the flu vaccine and circulating strains of flu virus for the shots to have any chance of working. And, even when the vaccine is believed to contain the right flu strains that are circulating during a specific flu season, 10 to 20 percent of healthy people 65 or younger will still get sick with flu after having a flu shot. What's more, the CDC admit that for older adults and anyone with a chronic medical condition, the flu vaccine is not effective 30 to 70 percent of the time in preventing hospitalization for flu or pneumonia. Another worrisome reality about flu shots: A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine backs up earlier reports that the flu vaccination is linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). Although this is a rare complication of the flu vaccine, it can be deadly. In GBS, the body damages its own nerve cells. This can result in muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis, breathing problems, heart arrhythmias and even death.

Of course, the flu itself can kill, especially when someone with a weak immune system or a chronic disease catches the virus. But now a landmark new study by epidemiologists at the University of Michigan finds there are common sense, non-vaccine strategies most everyone can use to help avoid the flu -- and these approaches don't involve a single shot.

Instead, the researchers conclude simply wearing masks during flu season when out in public crowds and using plain, alcohol-based hand sanitizers appear to prevent the spread of flu-type viral symptoms by around 50 percent.

For the study, at the beginning of flu season research subjects were randomly assigned to six weeks of wearing a standard medical procedure mask alone, mask use and hand sanitizer use, or using no intervention. Then the scientists followed up with the study participants to spot any flu-type symptoms, which were defined as cough with at least one other characteristic symptom such as fever, chills or body aches.

After the third week, both the mask only and mask/hand sanitizer interventions showed a reduction in the rate of influenza-like illness symptoms in comparison to the control group. Even after adjusting for gender, race/ethnicity, hand washing practices, sleep quality, and whether the research subjects had already had a flu vaccination, the significant reduction in rate of flu symptoms remained.

"These initial results are encouraging since masks and hand hygiene may be effective for preventing a range of respiratory illnesses," Allison Aiello, co-principal investigator and assistant professor of epidemiology at the University Of Michigan School Of Public Health, said in a press statement.

The findings, "Mask Use Reduces Seasonal Influenza-like Illness in the Community Setting," were recently presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy and the Infectious Diseases Society of America annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Despite the U.S. government's rigorous promotion of flu shots, it is interesting to note that since 2007, the CDC and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have joined in collaboration with other federal agencies, education, businesses, healthcare and private sectors to develop what they refer to as an "interim planning guide on the use of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to mitigate an influenza pandemic". The reason for this? According to the University of Michigan press statement, it is critical that non-pharmaceutical interventions such as hand washing and masks are studied because pharmaceutical interventions such as vaccinations and antivirals may not be available in sufficient quantities for preventing and controlling pandemic outbreaks of the flu.

Of course, another explanation seems possible , too -- vaccinations and antiviral drugs are no "magic bullets" for preventing or treating the flu. Instead, prevention through common sense precautions such as hand hygiene,as well as consuming a healthy diet and immune boosting supplements, could be the best defense during flu season.

About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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