It was with interest that I read the headline “Moab sees increase in reported flu cases” recently. This isn’t a big town, so you would think a local family doctor would be the first to know about a rise in flu. Fortunately, I read the newspaper so I can keep abreast of what is going on outside my little bubble.
The accompanying article quoted a Health Department spokesman suggesting that “Individuals that have received the vaccine are reporting less severe symptoms than those that have not yet been vaccinated.” Moreover, such people “are responding better to treatment for the illness…than those that had not yet received the shot.”
I have to applaud any who are doing the best they can to reduce the burden of illness among the public. Unfortunately, the average citizen is easily misled by statements like those found in this news article. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), influenza belongs to a category called “vaccine-preventable diseases.” In other words, the promise of vaccines is to prevent disease, not reduce its severity. Perhaps in the dumbing down of all kinds of standards in our society, people have abandoned the idea of vaccines actually preventing illness. After all, so many victims of “vaccine-preventable diseases” were in fact fully vaccinated.
If a vaccine is truly doing what it promises to do, people shouldn’t have to worry about getting the disease at all. “Responding better to treatment” for it should be irrelevant.
The article goes on to report that 295 patients have been tested for influenza at Moab Regional Hospital so far this season. Of those, 28 were positive for influenza A and 20 for influenza B. What does this mean? Well, we don’t test patients for influenza unless they have an influenza-like illness (termed “ILI” in the medical literature): Sudden-onset of symptoms like cough, sore throat, fever, muscle and/or body aches, and extreme fatigue.
Pretending the vaccine is 100% effective, those 48 people who got influenza A or B must not have been vaccinated. Unfortunately, the number of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated in each group was not reported for some reason. You can be pretty certain that if those 48 people had all been unvaccinated, this fact would have been prominently reported. Oddly, I have yet to see a single illness outbreak locally or nationally in which the authorities report how many of the victims were vaccinated. Have you?
But there is more valuable information to be gleaned from the limited information the public was given. For example, 237 of the 295 patients with flu symptoms tested negative for flu. Influenza has for some odd reason become the bogeyman in our society. This is unfortunate considering that fully 80% of patients who felt bad enough to go to the hospital with symptoms suspicious for flu did not have influenza A or B. This is because a huge variety of bugs cause flu-like symptoms, not just the influenza family of viruses. If we are serious about protecting the largest possible number of citizens from ILI, we should be vaccinating against all of the infectious agents.
It’s a lovely idea in theory. The only problem is that there are too many targets. A brief internet search reveals that ILI is caused by Anthrax, Brucellosis, Cat scratch fever, Legionellosis, Leptospirosis, Listeriosis, Lyme disease, Lymphogranuloma venereum, Mastitis, Salmonellosis, Toxic Shock Syndrome, Syphilis, Tuberculosis, Scrub typhus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Coxsackie B virus, Chickenpox, Cytomegalovirus, Eastern equine encephalitis virus, California encephalitis virus, Enteroviruses, Hendra virus, Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, Herpes, HIV-1 and -2, Newcastle disease, parainfluenza viruses, rhinovirus, Measles, MERS coronavirus, respiratory syncytial virus, Rubella, SARS coronavirus, Slapped cheek syndrome, Smallpox, Togaviridae, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, Blastomycosis, Coccidioidomycosis, Histoplasmosis, Stachybotrys chartarum, Babesiosis, Leishmaniasis, Malaria, and Toxoplasmosis.
Get the picture yet? Obviously, a lot of these are less common causes of ILI in America, but many others are widespread. For example, we experience millions of cases of parainfluenza, rhinovirus, RSV, and coronavirus every flu season. You just never hear about them because we don’t bother testing for them. Doctors just diagnose them as ILI and tell patients to get lots of sleep, drink lots of water, and take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
So, if we really care about the bulk of the population, we shouldn’t be narrowing our efforts to influenza. Now let’s pretend the impossible, i.e. that we could create and mass-produce vaccines for all of these microbes. How many shots do you want? And do you have any idea what the short- and long-term risks of all these vaccines would be for our immune systems and our brains? Keep in mind that studies of vaccine side effects are normally limited to days, not months, years, or decades. And even those limited studies are performed using single vaccines. Nobody has studied the risks of giving 2, 5, 10, or 15 vaccines at once, or even spread out. We just do it to our babies trusting that it must be safe, even though nobody has ever proved it. Imagine what it would take to prove the safety of a super vaccine against even 5 or 10 of the most common causes of ILI!
Mind you, I’m not telling you to be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated. I’m merely telling you what every single doctor, pharmacy, hospital, and health department should be telling you if they are honest. In fact, it is the only truly ethical thing to do. This is a medical procedure. Its effects, both good and bad, can be every bit as long-lasting as those of surgery. Every medical procedure carries potential benefits, risks, and alternatives. You need to know what these are, and to what extent they are unknown. In medicine, this is called Informed Consent.
In the case of vaccines, when you choose to undergo (for yourself or your children) a vaccination of any kind, you are participating in an uncontrolled, unmonitored experiment, the potential risks of which nobody knows because they have never been studied. And rarely are adverse reactions reported. In fact, side effects are so routine that you would be wasting your breath telling your doctor that you or your child developed a fever, a rash, or pain after a vaccination.
Before joining us, one of my staff took her infant to his previous doctor for his routine “required” shots. Within three hours, he developed a bad cough. He wheezed at night for more than a week. The day after the vaccines, he developed a rash all over his head and scratched at it for months. When she brought these sudden changes to his doctor’s attention, he blew her off, declaring, “Couldn’t have been the vaccines. Vaccines don’t do that.” Really? Based on which study?
But let’s get back to flu for a moment. Everyone knows the vaccines are not 100% effective. There are many reasons for this. One is that the vaccines only target 3 or 4 of the numerous strains in existence. According to the CDC,
There are many different flu viruses and they are constantly changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses. Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses (depending on vaccine) that research suggests will be most common…. Influenza vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year among different age and risk groups and even by vaccine type. How well the vaccine works can depend in part on the match between the vaccine virus used to produce the vaccine and the circulating viruses that season. It’s not possible to predict what viruses will be most predominant during the upcoming season.
During years when the CDC guesses correctly which strains are going to be active in America, they report average reductions of flu illness between 40-60%. That’s better than nothing, I suppose, but far from the miracle we are led to believe it represents. If you consider how many years the experts have guessed incorrectly which strains to include in the vaccine, the true effectiveness of the annual flu vaccine is much much lower than 40-60%. For this reason, it is stunning that the CDC’s own website claims, “Getting vaccinated each year provides the best protection against the flu throughout flu season.” After lengthy disclaimers explaining the numerous reasons the vaccine fails so often, such a claim is so unscientific as to be laughable.
The unfortunate problem is that the general public has no idea this statement has no scientific backing. Did scientists compare the vaccine to 30, 20, 10, or even 2 other prevention strategies? In every other field of human endeavor, we compare the outcomes achieved using a variety of tools, products, approaches, etc. in order to determine which is “the best.” When it comes to preventing influenza and other infectious diseases, vaccines have been declared “the best protection” after being compared to…nothing. At least, if they did make some comparison, they haven’t informed us what they studied it against, and haven’t shown us that data yet.
But this whole argument still misses the point. In Western medicine, we are obsessed with a reductionistic paradigm. We are always looking for the cause and the cure for each disease we encounter. By contrast, one of my functional medicine mentors, renowned cardiologist Dr. Mark Houston, has drilled into my head the following truth: “The human body has a finite number of ways it can respond to an infinite number of insults.”
In other words, whether it’s heart disease, cancer, depression, fatigue, Alzheimer’s disease, or any number of other diseases, there are numerous contributory factors that can cause any one of them. As a result, there is not just one cure for any of these conditions. For example, if a person’s heart attack is caused by the combination of smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure, lowering his cholesterol isn’t going to prevent his next heart attack. Doctors who really care about treating as well as preventing disease need to look at the whole picture, examining every major input into the health equation.
Similarly, there is not just one cause of influenza or influenza-like illness. A well-meaning but misinformed reductionist would say, “Flu is caused by infection with a strain of influenza A or B virus.” Yeah, but that misses the point completely. When two people are sitting in an enclosed space with an infected patient, why does one get the flu while the other doesn’t? Millions of people exposed to infectious microorganisms on a daily basis don’t end up getting sick. If exposure to the bug was the determining factor, my staff and I would always be sick!
The problem is not the bug; it’s an impaired immune system. Your immune system was designed to protect you against every imaginable microorganism, not to mention cancer. Strengthen your immune system and you’ll be less susceptible to diseases of every kind. There isn’t one magic pill, one shot, one cream, one practice, or anything else that will save you.
What will give you the best protection against influenza and every other disease is giving your immune system everything it needs to do its job, while at the same time avoiding and removing those things that poison it. Some of our favorites are:
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. But it covers the most important bases. The best part is that strengthening your entire immune system reduces your risk of getting thousands of different infections and diseases, not just 3 or 4 strains of influenza that are going to change every year.
Perhaps the fact that so many of you are following our recommendations explains why our office has not seen the reported onslaught of flu and ILI. I’m sure we’ll see some here and there. But year after year, when the alarm bells start ringing in the community, the “epidemic” seems to pass us by. It’s as if, while the community around them gets pelted with hailstones, our patients get light rain.
Maybe it’s just luck. If that’s the case, we’ll take all the lucky patients we can get. We’re happy to take care of the unlucky ones, too, but we consider it our job to help them join the ranks of the lucky. All they have to do is choose to take care of themselves using science-backed measures instead of unscientific platitudes like “Stick it to the flu. Get your flu shot.”
Ever striving to increase your luck,
Ray Andrew, MD