The real danger of influenza

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2013

Influenza is one of the more uncomfortable diseases in nature's playbook and during some epidemics one of the most deadly. The sudden onset of fever and chills is followed by a punk feeling, headache and muscle aches. A sore throat, cough and nasal congestion are typical. Children can develop a wide variety of symptoms that include seizures and pneumonia.

The virus is chameleon-like, its genetic profile changing from year to year. Sometimes it's highly communicable, sometimes highly destructive and in the worst scenario, the virus is equipped with both traits.

The worst influenza epidemic in modern times began in 1918 as the First World War was ending. When the armies dispersed they carried the virus to their home countries, setting the stage for what public health authorities refer to as a pandemic, involving virtually all populations on the planet. The 1918-1919 pandemic killed at least 20 million people, possibly more than twice that number, but the virus didn't act alone.

It's not the virus that kills most people, but bacteria that are always present within the environment. The influenza virus disrupts the immune system. The effects are worst among the very young, the very old, pregnant women and obese persons. These victims become susceptible to several dangerous bacteria, especially those that cause pneumonia. In fact, one of these bacteria, Hemophilus influenzae, received its name because it was so commonly associated with victims during an epidemic in 1890 that early investigators believed it to be the cause of influenza.

The pneumococcal (pneumonia) vaccine is more important than many people realize. It is protective against several strains of the bacterium, including those that commonly contribute to death among persons with influenza. Children and everyone over the age of 65 should receive the pneumococcal vaccine.

The Hemophilus vaccine for children has been astoundingly successful. Since young children are particularly susceptible to complications of influenza it is one of the more important vaccines for them to receive.

Unfortunately there is no vaccine for Staphylococcus. Strains known as MRSA or Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus are widespread in the community, but especially in hospitals.

The incubation period of influenza is short, averaging about 2 days, which explains why some persons develop influenza a few days after getting the vaccine. They become infected in the doctor's waiting room on the day they receive the vaccine, which requires a couple of weeks to develop its protective effect.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.