Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
As we are all aware, flu season is upon us. In a typical year, approximately 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the seasonal flu and approximately 36,000 flu-related deaths are reported. This year, we are faced with not only the seasonal flu, but also the novel H1N1 flu virus. This additional virus may cause a more dangerous flu season with more people getting sick, being hospitalized and dying than during a regular flu season. Like seasonal flu, illness in people with H1N1 can vary from mild to severe.
Each flu season, I see claims for products to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat, or cure the flu virus. Unfortunately, these claims often seek to take advantage of people who are simply trying to protect their and their families' health and well-being. In fact, since May 2009, the FDA has warned more than 75 Web sites to stop the sale of more than 135 products with fraudulent H1N1 influenza virus claims. If a claim seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Vaccination is the best protection against contracting the flu. I know that many people are very concerned about the safety of the flu vaccines, but let me echo the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as other prominent public health leaders, in assuring you that the vaccines for both the seasonal flu as well as H1N1 have a very good safety track record. Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have received the flu vaccine, and the development of the H1N1 vaccine followed the same path of safety and effectiveness testing and approval.
Unproven claims also abound regarding treatments for the flu. In fact, the only approved medications for this flu virus are Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir). If you are thinking about using a CAM product to prevent the flu or “boost your immune system,” first get information on it from reliable sources. The NCCAM Web site offers information about many CAM products, as does the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements and MedlinePlus. Please remember to talk to your health care provider about your use of dietary supplements or other forms of complementary and alternative medicine. This will help ensure safe and coordinated care.
If you do find yourself with the flu, remember to take care and be kind to yourself. Stay home, get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and take comfort in home remedies like mom's chicken soup. And be sure to visit flu.gov for more information on symptoms and how to take care of yourself and your loved ones.