The media sure are hyping this flu thing, aren't they? And, boy, is it scary. Oh! Did you hear? We're all going to die! With all the hoopla, it's hard to know how frightened to be, and whether or not to get the flu shot. The influenza pandemic of 1918 did kill 20 to 40 million people. At the moment, the big scare is avian flu, but thus far there's no vaccine available to the public.
You might want to avoid Asian chickens whenever possible.
As for other strains, a vaccine may protect you and those around you from falling ill, but many choose not to get it for a variety of reasons. One of those is thimerosal, a mercury compound used as a preservative in the vaccine.
Some say that those who don't immunize themselves and their children are riding on the backs of those who do. But until they decide to pass a law forcing you to do so, it's up to you (although I once worked for a guy who demanded that all his employees get the shot).
If you choose not to, are there other ways to protect yourself against influenza?
What the experts say
"In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the flu vaccine had 'no or low effectiveness' against influenza or influenza-like illness. The actual statistics indicated that the vaccine protected from 0 to 14 per cent of study participants, making it a less potent remedy than a placebo. In other words, if it works, it's likely to be all in one's mind. On top of this, the flu vaccine contains mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde, traces of antibiotics and foreign genetic material, all well documented to be harmful to health. Just last week, a young child in the U.S. died shortly after been vaccinated with it. Seizures, the flu and paralysis are some of the potential side effects."
Zoltan Rona , MD, author of Natural Alternatives To Vaccination, Toronto
"People who are allergic to eggs should not get the flu vaccine, because it's grown in eggs. Very vulnerable populations, like the elderly or people who are very sick, may benefit. I don't see that it is needed in children, babies in particular. [In general], someone who gets a viral infection is short on vitamin C , B6 and/or zinc . Take these in small amounts. B6 should be taken in a B complex. A 250 mg dose of vitamin C every four hours is plenty, and don't go cold turkey off vitamin C when you're finished with a cold. With too little zinc, the immune system will not function properly, but too much suppresses it. Take no higher than 5 mg zinc lozenges four to six times a day. If you are short of omega 3 fats , your immune system won't be working. I also recommend raw garlic , but don't overdo it."
Aileen Burford Mason , immunologist/dietitian, Toronto
"Immune enhancers are astragalus root and a Chinese herb called bupleurum . The ginsengs are excellent and work very well with those two. You can use Korean, Siberian or Canadian ginseng together or singularly. Also licorice root . All these in equal parts can be made into a tea. Add 3 teaspoons of herbs to 4 cups of water and simmer gently, covered, for 20 minutes. Sip warm tea throughout the day. Common thyme , sage , rosemary and marjoram leaves and anise seed all have a strong anti-bacterial effect and can be used to some degree for viruses. They have a history of use for protection during the plague years." Celina Ainsworth , registered herbalist, Toronto
"Everybody can benefit from the flu vaccine. It's the safest, most effective and longest-lasting way to avoid getting this illness. Thimerosal is there for a reason. If you don't have a preservative, people end up getting sick from contamination. The amount is negligible and does not pose a health risk. Influenza is the most diabolical and unpredictable virus you can imagine. It mutates with great frequency. Consider that you have to decide in February what vaccine to develop for the next year, and have only a few months' lead time to produce millions of doses. The virus has a window of time in which it can mutate. We're not doing badly, but the possibility of not having a proper match does exist. That happened last year, but vaccinated people who got the virus got a milder case because they still had some protection."
Ian Gemmill , MD, co-chair, Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion, Kingston