According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this flu season is an unusually severe outbreak with wide-spread instances of disease in 49 States with many schools being closed. The season started earlier than usual, which is never a good sign. CDC Deputy Director Anne Schuchat has said “This year’s influenza season is proving particularly difficult”. Hospitals do not have enough beds and the prevalence of the flu has led to shortages of anti-viral medications that if prescribed in the first 48 hours may shorten symptoms by a day or so.
This season’s primary virus strain is H3N2, a deadly type of influenza A that tends to result in more severe illness and higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths than other strains. H3N2 is especially dangerous for the frail elderly and children, although people between the ages of 50 and 64 are being hospitalized at alarming rates, second only to the elderly. As of this post, 53 children have already died (compared to 101 for last year’s entire season) but the true number of children’s deaths may be twice as many.
Since vaccination may lessen the severity of the illness and there are few other options, the CDC recommends people be vaccinated with the current flu vaccine, even though it may only be 30% -40% effective. [Antibiotics are useless against viruses since they only kill bacteria.]
Although some people view the flu as “merely” annoying and inconvenient, those suffering from influenza along with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma, emphysema, diabetes and other pre-existing conditions are at a higher risk of hospitalization or death, especially if they contract a secondary bacterial infection.
The influenza virus is difficult for the body to protect itself from, because it is able to mutate rapidly and frequently. This forces the immune system to constantly change its tactics to combat the latest version of the flu.
Infection by influenza triggers an intense immune inflammatory response in the lungs in the body’s attempt to stop the virus from multiplying. The lungs’ immune cells release cytokines, small molecules that signal and recruit other cells into the lungs to increase or decrease their immune and inflammatory responses.
But such a response can be a double edged sword. Too much inflammation causes lung damage on top of the damage already caused by the virus and secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia. Additionally, although rare, if the balance of cytokines is significantly upset, the normal level of inflammatory cytokines may become too high, resulting in a cytokine storm (or cytokine cascade) that can kill a previously healthy individual in hours.
A properly balanced immune system, one in homeostasis, is more fully prepared to defend us against invasion by foreign agents, and is ready to help us combat an infection if we get one.
Following the following steps will help keep your immune system functioning at optimum levels:
- Eat healthful meals with an emphasis on whole grains and plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits.
- Be physical active to help keep the immune system in balance; incorporate it into your daily life.
- Get adequate amounts of rest and avoid fatigue.
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep membranes moist and more resistant to invasion.
- Wash your hands frequently and try to keep them away from your face.
- Stop, or at least cut down, on your smoking—your lungs are struggling enough.
- Consume a superior immune support supplement to help your immune system balance.