You’ve read the headlines – the 2018 Flu Season has now reached record proportions! Starting earlier than usual in December, the virus first gained strength in California and quickly spread to 48 states across the country. Many people spent their holiday season passing the virus back and forth between family members, hampering social and travel plans. It hasn’t been uncommon to hear people say they haven’t been this sick for decades. At this point, the number of the population affected is at the same level as the Swine Flu Pandemic of 2009, a new flu strain that had surfaced at that time for which we were not prepared. Previously coined the “hospitalizer” due to its severity causing record levels of hospitalizations, this year’s H3N2 Influenza strain is shaping up to be no different, continuing to circulate despite predictions that it would fade out as the season wore on.
The resultant strain on healthcare facilities has outgrown capacity in many areas, causing a number of them to expand services into parking lots under makeshift tents to handle the influx of patients. The worse part? All of this transpired before officially reaching the peak of the season, which typically occurs during the month of February. So, why is this year’s flu so bad and what can we do about it?
The Vintage Tells the Story
The strain of Influenza that circulates each year provides valuable information about how detrimental the season will be and its impact on human health. The H3N2 A strain is known to cause a moderate to severe infection. Although this virus is not new to us – first making its debut in Hong Kong in 1968, it is expected that most of the population has some level of protection against it through previous exposure and built-up antibodies. However, depending on individual baseline health, it can be quite detrimental because it mutates extremely rapidly, circumventing our innate immune response. Due to this rapid mutation rate, the vaccine is less effective against H3N2, but it may also be a particularly bad match this year for reasons yet to be revealed.
Effects Mimic Public Health Trends
While young children and the elderly are considered the most vulnerable to the severe effects of the infection, it often goes overlooked that anyone with an underlying chronic disease, nearly 60% of the population today, are also at a high risk for getting sick with the flu. Additionally, 32% of the population has precursor symptoms of chronic disease called Metabolic Syndrome, a combination of metabolic dysregulation due to poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices that translates into insulin resistance, abdominal overweight/obesity, high blood pressure and high lipid profiles. The general ill health of the population may explain why so many have experienced adverse consequences of the flu virus this year. Although H3N2 is thought to be particularly lethal for children that weren’t exposed prior to 2001, most deaths have occurred among older people with an average age of 75. Surprisingly, there have been cases where young and middle-aged people have died as well, providing evidence that we need to increase awareness of how serious the flu can be to everyone across the age span.
One important way to prevent illness overall is to routinely commit to a self-care regimen. Ongoing nourishment of the body and preventive health measures will produce the most effective barrier against an increasingly toxic environment. In fact, the best defense against devastating flu seasons within our power is to eat a nutrient-dense, whole-food diet, exercise daily and get plenty of rest. Research has shown that immune function declines as we age, a process called immunoscenescence, producing a lackluster and often inefficient response to infectious and neoplastic diseases (cancer). Specific nutrients such as amino acids, zinc, omegas and probiotics can all offer protection against this decline, although further studies are needed to determine exact dosages and combinations to produce optimal effects on immune function.
When in doubt, turn to superfoods like Goji Berries, Matcha green tea and Cacao Powder, which provide excellent daily nutrition and protection by increasing our baseline level of health in the face of infectious disease. Additionally, Navitas Organics’ new Daily Superfood Immunity Boost is a perfect superfood powder that’s a complement to the season with its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Its rich antioxidant profile combined with 1.5 billion CFUs of probiotics provides the necessary immune support to protect you through the remainder of this devastating flu season.
For an even higher level of protection, couple your healthy diet with these simple practices:
• Wash your hands immediately after contact with others or surfaces in public areas using hot, soapy water for no less than 30 seconds
• Stay home from work or school if you are symptomatic! We can mitigate the impact and spread of the flu to the most vulnerable among us by containing the potential for contamination. One explanation for the uncontrollable spread of the virus this year is insufficient sick day policies, making the decision to push through the symptoms and head to work a necessity. Workplace policies such as these need to evolve with the times to contain disease spread, especially when the inevitable flu pandemic arrives in earnest.
• Don’t overcommit – Make time for restorative practices that recharge, not deplete your resources
• Reduce stress – Chronic stress leads to adrenal fatigue and impaired immune response. Regularly commit to activities that foster work/life balance and allow for the release of built-up tension