Medical experts have been predicting a particularly harsh flu season and it looks like some of their worst fears could be materializing. A particular worry, according to health officials, is an influenza strain known as the “Aussie Flu,” which got its name from the devastation it has caused in Australia in recent months.
Aussie flu caused 742 deaths last year
In fact, there were more than 233,400 confirmed cases of flu in Australia last year. That’s double the influenza rate from 2016. Eighty percent of those cases involved a strain called H3N2 (the technical name for the “Aussie Flu,”) which epidemiologists say is especially virulent.
That helps explain why the number of severe hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketed too. More than 742 Australians died from H3N2 in 2017, a more than fourfold increase from the previous four-year average.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine explains that “H3N2 is a nastier virus than some of the other influenza viruses.” Consequently, he expects “that there will be more healthy children and young adults who find themselves in the ER this year.”
Why H3N2 is more dangerous
According to Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, at the John’s Hopkins Center for Health Security, the symptoms of the Aussie Flu are the same as those found with other influenza strains:
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Extreme fatigue
However, Dr. Adalja explains that because H3N2 is a more severe strain it is more likely to result in complications like pneumonia. As he notes, “We’re seeing increasing cases in hospitals and increasing rates of death.”
Will the flu shot keep you protected?
Flu shots target specific strains, which experts believe are the most likely threat, but they do not protect against every variety of influenza out there.
According to the CDC, this year’s flu shot is designed to immunize against both H1N1 and H3N2 type viruses, but the vaccine proved only 10 percent effective on Australia. Health officials believe that rate will improve to 30 percent in the United States, but they acknowledge that “Traditionally, vaccines don’t work quite as well against the H3N2 strain.”
Minimize your exposure to microorganisms
So, what can you do to keep yourself and your family safe this flu season? Let’s start with some broad hygienic recommendations that can reduce your chances of exposure in the first place. Then, let’s look at some all-natural ways of keeping your immune system in top shape.
- Wash your hands throughout the day. The CDC recommends lathering up your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds per session. Alcohol-based sanitizers only kill some germs, but not all. Therefore, they are not as effective as handwashing.
- Don’t touch your face. You never know what microorganism you have on your hands. Eyes, nostrils and your mouth are ideal entry points for germs.
- Avoid contact with public fixtures and crowds as much as possible. Similarly, keep surfaces clean in your home. That includes sanitizing your cell phone periodically. If you do touch a doorknob, railing or elevator button, be sure to wash your hands afterward.
Flu-busting natural hacks
Here are a few ways to keep the flu at bay, naturally:
- Elderberry is a plant-based remedy that has been used for centuries to treat cold and flu symptoms. Modern studies have found that compounds in elderberry can stop viral agents from replicating and penetrating cellular membranes. In one double-blind trial, conducted by Dr. Madeleine Mumcuoglu, “93.3 percent of the people taking an elderberry preparation reported significant improvement in influenza symptoms within two days of starting it, compared with the six days it took for the placebo group to see improvement.” Dr. Mumcuoglu’s research suggests that elderberry can help ward off the flu too.
- Get lots of vitamin D. The best way to get this nutrient is by getting plenty of sunshine, which is not always possible in the winter months. Vitamin D plays a key role in supporting the health of your immune system and inadequacies will leave you more vulnerable to infections. Consider a D3 supplement to keep your immunity in good shape.
- Add honey to green tea. Green tea is loaded with protective antioxidants and honey is packed with antimicrobial properties. Combining the two packs a powerful one-two punch. That’s because a hot beverage will help thin out excess mucus build-up while the honey will coat your throat.
- Garlic has been used as a natural antibiotic and anti-microbial remedy for centuries. It also contains allicin, a sulfuric compound, which has been shown to boost levels of white blood cells that the body needs to fight off foreign invaders. Studies confirm garlic is both safe and effective when it comes to counteracting the flu.
- Don’t forget chicken soup. According to Bryan Rade, a naturopathic physician, “Homemade chicken soup has protein groups that have been shown to have antiviral activity.” The evidence suggests he’s right. What’s more, chicken soup will help reduce inflammation while keeping you hydrated. Be sure to make your own, though, because only homemade soups have demonstrated benefits that are for real.
— Scott O’Reilly