It’s flu season–should I get a flu shot? What else can I do?

Q  Should I get a flu shot?

A.  I am a “dissenter” on flu shots.  I think there are big questions about their safety and effectiveness.  Here are some of the problems:

· The mercury preservative thimerosal is still in flu vaccine, though it has been taken out of some other vaccines.  It is in all multi-dose vials of flu vaccine. There are single-dose injections that do not have it, but they are not commonly available.

· There are other toxic ingredients in flu vaccines: metals, such as aluminum hydroxide and phosphate, preservatives (such as sorbitol and polysorbate); antibiotics (neomycin, gentamycin); formalin; formaldehyde; fetal bovine serum, foreign animal tissue containing genetic material.  Several brands of flu shots also contain egg proteins, a common allergen.

· A 10 year study done by Dr. Hugh Fudenberg, M.D. about the connection between flu vaccine and Alzheimer’s showed that people who got a flu shot every year during that time (10 flu shots) had 10 times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s compared to people who got only one or two flu shots.

· For a table of ingredients in most common vaccines, see:

· A 2005 Lancet article about the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccine reveals that the flu vaccines were not significantly effective for the elderly. The article reported a study that analyzed data on the worldwide performance of the vaccine over the past 37 years in people 65 years and older. According to lead researcher Dr. Tom Jefferson of the non-profit Rome, Italy-based Cochrane Vaccine Fields project:  “The runaway 100 percent effectiveness that’s touted by proponents was nowhere to be seen…There is a wild overestimation of the impact of these vaccinations in the [elderly] community…In elderly individuals living in the community, vaccines were not significantly effective against influenza, influenza-like illnesses, or pneumonia… What you see is that marketing rules the response to influenza, and scientific evidence comes fourth or fifth … Vaccines may have a role, but they appear to have a modest effect. The best strategy to prevent illness is to wash your hands.” Jefferson, T., et al. “Efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccines in elderly people: a systematic review.” Lancet, 366(9492):1165-1174, October 2005.

To be fair, if a vaccine happens to contain the particular strain of flu that is going around, it can be effective.  However, this rarely happens because the flu vaccines contain “standard” viral components.

Q.  What about the FluMist nasal vaccine?

A.  First of all, this vaccine is targeted to people aged 5 to 49—those who need it the least.  It also causes flu-like side effects—you are trading a mild flu-like illness at a time you choose, for a potentially worse flu at a time you did not choose.  Worst of all, it is a “live attenuated” virus—that is, a weakened virus that is still alive.  People who get the nasal vaccine can shed the virus for 21 days and potentially infect people around them who have compromised immune systems. According to the packaging insert, you should avoid immune-compromised people for at least 21 days after getting the vaccine.  Really? At school, at work, or at church, exactly how are we supposed to know who is immune-compromised?

Q.  If I don’t get a flu shot, what should I do to prevent flu and colds?

A.  The first three answers to this are:

· Wash your hands frequently

· Wash your hands frequently

· Wash your hands frequently

Non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers are great too- CleanWell is a good one.  The “anti-bacterial” soaps and hand sanitizers are no better than regular soap and hand cleaners, and they can encourage the growth of resistant bacteria, so I don’t recommend using them.

That said, what else is good for flu and cold prevention?

· Vitamin C!   Though there have been many attempts to discredit Nobel Laureate Dr. Linus Pauling’s excellent research on Vitamin C and disease prevention, it still stands.  Take 500 milligrams of Vitamin C every 4 hours throughout the day, with plenty of water.  Chewables are easier than pills for most people, but if you use chewables, be sure to drink water when you take one, at least 6-8 ounces.

· Elderberry is a known natural flu fighter.  A study published in the Online Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacokinetics done during the 2009 flu season showed that 28% of flu sufferers who took 175 mg. of elderberry extract were completely symptom free in 48 hours, 60% showed significant improvement, and 16% showed moderate improvement.  In the control group who did not get elderberry, only 16% reported reductions in one or more symptoms, and no one was symptom free.  For a good report of this study, see

· Plenty of water—at least six 8 ounce glasses a day.

· Train yourself not to touch your nose or eyes, except with a clean tissue.  One of the common entry points for bacteria or viruses is the eyes.  It is especially hazardous if you touch a surface like the hand rail of an escalator, and then rub your eyes.

· Take care of your general health.  Eat 5-6 servings (a serving is a half cup) of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and get at least 4 ounces of protein; and be sure to get some exercise.  It’s all too easy to be a couch potato in the fall and winter.

· Stop smoking, and cut down on alcohol—one drink a day, with food, and not every day. Alcohol dehydrates the body.

· Get some relaxation.  High stress levels mean high cortisols (your body’s own steroids) which suppress your immune system.  Relaxation has been shown to speed the release of interleukins, the “lead fighters” in the immune response to flu.

· When you sneeze, if you do not have a tissue handy, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not into your hand.

· Stay home if you don’t feel well.