Carvings October 15, 2022

In the news

Influenza – don’t become complacent

            The flu season of 2021-2022 was the mildest since reporting began in 1997 due to several factors emanating from the rise in COVID-19. Among other things, we traveled less, kept our distance, worked and shopped from home and avoided crowds. Wearing masks probably helped but that issue is a can of worms in which each worm is different from every other, i.e., some masks are effective but even the best begin to fail after a few hours, and cloth masks, in the opinion of one scientist, are no more than facial ornamentation. In the last influenza season there was a dramatic reduction in deaths due to influenza – estimated at less than 10,000 when 40,000-80,000 is the norm – as well as deaths from other common respiratory illnesses.

            This should not make us complacent. It’s likely that influenza will come back with a vengeance this season and next. Unlike the coronavirus epidemic, seasonal influenza is devastating for children.

            Influenza vaccines are far from perfect but those who have received the vaccine, if otherwise in good health, almost never die from the disease. There is no doubt that the influenza vaccine significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization or death but there is another advantage that most people are not aware of. If you are unvaccinated and develop influenza, even if you survive you are at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke in the following six months. Conversely, vaccine recipients are statistically less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke in subsequent months.

            Unlike the “dirty”influenza vaccines of half a century ago, modern vaccines are almost free of side effects and the injection itself is almost painless. In short, there is no reasonable argument for not getting the vaccine.

On the COVID-19 front

            The fat lady is still in the wings and she isn’t likely to sing for quite a while. Although cases and deaths continue to decline in the U.S. they are beginning to rise elsewhere in the world. The latest version of the Omicron strain has spawned many variants – estimated at more then 200 so far this year – and it’s quite possible that an invasive one is lurking among them.

            As I have noted repeatedly, this virus is remarkably unpredictable. We are fortunate in that the latest vaccine is protective against the latest variants and as more persons throughout the world are vaccinated, and thus are likely to excrete the virus for a shorter duration and in smaller concentrations, the emergence of vaccine-resistant strains will become less likely. But still….

            Little things mean a lot – so keep up your immune system and overall resistance by taking some simple steps:

            Keep your weight down. Every pound of excess fat raises your risk because fat stores generate cytokines that can overreact if you are infected, leading to cytokine storm – a killer. Fat tissue also is a “vitamin D sink”, making that valuable nutrient less available to the body. And more – being overweight raises the risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes, a condition that weakens the immune system.

            Get enough protein in your diet. That’s what you need to make antibodies and immune cells.

            Exercise more. For reasons that are not entirely clear, persons who exercise regularly – that means at least four days a week for at least one hour, and with enough intensity to make you sweat – have stronger immune systems than those who do not.

            Get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, from fish or from supplements. These nutrients reduce inflammation and boost the immune response.

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