The H1N1 influenza A virus strain (also commonly referred to as Swine Flu) has become one of the most virulent influenza viruses in history. As of October 4, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) had confirmed over 375,000 cases of Swine Flu worldwide – making it a global pandemic – and over 4,000 deaths from infection.
As is the case with other viruses, the most common way to prevent H1N1 infection is through vaccination. One problem, however, is that production and distribution of the vaccine have been slow, and the best estimates put first year production at around 3 billion doses (that’s less than half of the Earth’s population). Another problem with vaccines is their questionable safety and efficacy. Just 33 years ago, influenza vaccines were causing Guillain-Barré syndrome at a rate of about 10 cases per 1 million vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the WHO claim that the H1N1 vaccine is safe and effective. If catching the virus isn’t a serious threat for you and you generally have a healthy immune system (i.e., you don’t usually get sick), getting the vaccine might not be worth the risk. On the other hand, if you are part of a high risk group – pregnant women, first line health care workers, the immuno-suppressed or immuno-deficient, etc. – you might consider getting the vaccine
Regardless of what you decide, there are a number of other ways to help prevent infection. First and foremost is the obvious, practical advice to stay away from sick people, and to make sure you’re practicing proper hygiene (e.g., wash your hands after you use the bathroom and before you eat, keep your fingers out of your eyes and nose, etc.). Some other effective ways to prevent getting sick are to exercise, eat right, and take immunity-boosting and anti-viral supplements.
It has been well-established for some time that exercise boosts immune function. Thirty to sixty minutes per day of moderate physical activity is enough to keep you well. Exercise may even directly increase the effectiveness of immunizations, especially in the elderly. Eating a healthy diet is also an effective way to boost immune function (in addition to all the other great benefits it provides). Deficiencies in certain nutrients not only make you more susceptible to viral infections, they also increase the chances of viral mutations that can increase the virus’ replication and severity. Supplementing with certain nutrients can help prevent infection, decrease the severity of symptoms, and help you feel better faster. The following is a list of some of those supplements and the ways in which they help keep you healthy:
- Geranium sanguineum extract – Restores and enhances immune function.
- Selenium – A deficiency leads to greater susceptibility to infection and viral mutations.
- N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) & glutathione – N-acetyl-L-cysteine is a precursor to glutathione. Glutathione helps prevent viral replication, especially in the respiratory system (where influenza viruses flourish).
- Resveratrol – Inhibits viral replication and reduces production of inflammatory chemicals.
- Quercetin – Protects the lungs from free radicals produced during an influenza infection.
- Vitamin E – Lowers virus levels in the lungs during an influenza A infection (H1N1 is an influenza A strain). It also helps maintain body weight after infection.
- Curcumin – Induces synthesis of glutathione in the body, inhibits inflammation, and stimulates production of monocytes and macrophages (the organisms in your body that fight viruses).
- Elderberry – Inhibits H1N1 activity. It’s effectiveness is similar to the anti-viral drugs Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Amantadine.
- Vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, B9, and B12, and trace elements selenium, zinc, copper and iron work in synergy to boost immune response. Vitamin B6, selenium, copper and zinc increase viral antibody production. Vitamins A, D and E promote immunity by stimulating Th2 lymphocytes.
These supplements can be taken as part of a preventative program, or if you get sick they can be administered intravenously to eliminate the virus, enhance recovery, and prevent future infection. Exercising, eating right, and being diligent about basic preventive practices will also go a long way in helping you to avoid getting sick. For more information about the H1N1 virus, visit the CDC, WHO, or Flu.gov.