Sure, I've had the flu before. Who hasn’t? We all know the drill: 2 or 3 days of aches, sneezing, coughing, fever, chills, nausea, sleepness nights. And then it's over. We return to our normally scheduled lives with something new to complain about, and maybe even a new joke about embarrassing but short-lived glitches in our bodily functions.
But by Day 5 of the Swine Flu, I realized that this H1N1 virus was no laughing matter.
It began in October. My girlfriend, Dawn, and I had invited my brother and his family over to celebrate his birthday. After they left, Dawn told me she wasn’t feeling well. At first I thought she was trying to get out of doing the dishes. But then she had a sudden emotional meltdown, began to cough and sneeze like a woman possessed, and produced a fever and chills in the blink of an eye. Suffice it to say, I was instantly convinced this was no ploy to avoid kitchen clean-up.
I immediately gave her a homeopathic flu remedy and a couple of other things, and sent her—sneezing, sniveling, coughing, and feverish—to bed. To give her the best chance at a night's rest, I selflessly consigned myself to the guest room.
In the morning, it was hard to distinguish between Dawn’s raucous cough and the braying of the donkey next door. I told her she had the flu. She sat up in bed and rasped, "bunk!" before dropping back into the pillows for the next 24 hours.
That night, I brought home an assortment of natural remedies including an antiviral formula with elderberry, an upper respiratory infection formula, colostrum, a homeopathic flu preventive (“Influenzinum”), two different cough syrups, and the really horrible-tasting but time-proven combo of Goldenseal, Echinacea, Myrrh and Phytolacca.
The Bedroom Scene
I took all the remedies too, not because I feared she might pass her gruesome illness to me, but because I wanted to assure her that I wouldn’t make her take anything I wouldn't take myself. We both took big doses of vitamin D, though I knew my level was optimal at about 75 ng/mL.
The next day I started coughing at work, and the following day I was bedridden with fever, weakness, headache, and body aches. There I remained, lying in the fetal position, sweating and freezing at the same time, but somehow convinced I would be up again in no time. Not so! Except for a slight decrease in body temperature, Day 2 mirrored Day 1, and Day 3 mirrored Day 2.
We lay in our sickbed together for days, with no appetite, continuing to cough hard enough to cause sore throats, and making little progress towards recovery. By the end of Day 3, even the cats had tired of us. It was like slogging through mud, day after day, growing increasingly weary and sore, with the mud getting only very slightly less deep. Very frustrating.
On Day 4, deciding that the very least I could do would be to sacrifice my body to science, I contacted my HMO doctor and asked if he would like me to come in for an H1N1 culture. His response? “H1N1 accounts for over 98.2% of all current flu in Hawaii so…you’ve got it! CDC is discouraging us from doing cultures for several months, as they are doing their own monitoring.”
By this time the fever was remitting for hours at a time, but still reappearing nearly every day. Finally, one week after onset, it stopped for good. With one day completely free of fever, Dawn and I both returned to work.
“You Should Have….”
I have never been very good at seeing clearly what homeopathic remedy I need when I am really sick. I thought about Gelsemium and Bryonia, but never took them. Nor did I take Nux vomica, thought to be the genus epidemicus for pandemic H1N1 (a term for the remedy which pertains to the symptoms of the majority of patients with an epidemic disease).
One of the dominant symptoms of Nux vomica is intense chills, which I may have avoided thanks to a foot-high comforter, and my Hawaiian locale, where it is still a genial 85°F. Nor did I display any of the irritability associated with Nux vomica (despite what Dawn might tell you), at least not until I started to feel well again!
My MD friends all say, “You should have gotten the vaccine.” But I am skeptical of the safety of the H1N1 vaccines, and they’re not a guarantee of immunity. To be honest, I had not even considered it. As for the neuramidase inhibitors, I have not seen any evidence that natural medicines are any less effective than these drugs in treating symptoms and shortening the flu.
To my ND friends, I would say that contrary to my usual success in treating patients (and myself) with naturopathic medicine, I was not overly impressed with anything I tried, despite some interesting published data. I'm not saying the natural meds did not work. I might have gotten much worse or suffered longer had I not taken them. I just didn't recover as quickly as I usually do where I’ve used them to treat flu in the past.
The most impressive data is for colostrum. I had never taken it before. Though full of immunoglobulins, there was just something about swallowing capsules of defatted, powdered milk from freshly calved cows that I had a hard time accepting.
I was convinced by a 2007 study comparing the flu vaccine with 1 capsule of colostrum (400 mg) daily. It involved two groups: healthy adults and patients with advanced cardiovascular disease. Subjects were randomized to vaccine alone, colostrum alone, vaccine plus colostrum, or no prophylaxis.
Among the healthy adults colostrum was 4 times more effective than the vaccine, and 3 times more effective than no prophylaxis. The flu vaccine was actually worse than doing nothing at all. The vaccine plus colostrum group did equally well as the colostrum-alone group. There were 57 cases of actual flu in the vaccine-only group, compared with 41 cases in the "no prophylaxis" group (Cesarone, et al. Clin Appl Thromb Hemost 2007; 13; 130).
In the subjects with heart disease, colostrum was twice as effective as the vaccine (3 vs 6 cases of flu). One patient actually died from complications in the vaccine group. In the vaccine-colostrum group, there were also 3 cases of flu.
There was also a promising study suggesting that elderberry extract could inhibit Human Influenza A (H1N1) infection in vitro (Roschek B Jr, et al. Phytochemistry. 2009 Jul;70(10):1255-61. Epub 2009 Aug 12). Flavonoids from the elderberry extract bind to H1N1 virions and block the ability of the virus to infect host cells.
No Fun, But Not the End of the World
For my patients, I continue to recommend Influenzinum (the homeopathic flu preventive) one dose weekly for fu prevention, Colostrum, 500 mg daily, and Black Elderberry syrup (1 tsp daily). I give similar remedies when they get the flu, with the addition of herbs for symptoms of sore throat, cough, etc.
But with H1N1, don’t expect any of these things to be a cure-all. Ditto for Tamiflu. You may just have to resign yourself to a few long days in bed.
So, does the swine flu warrant all the worry it’s been getting? I’d put it this way: There is a possibility that this flu pandemic could cause more deaths than influenza usually does. But so far it hasn’t, and there is no question in my mind that the media and the public health authorities are contributing to a lot of unnecessary hype about it.