The Annual Cold and Flu Season

The hoary annual threat of cold and flu

The change of seasons from warm to cool (and back again) is the time many experience the onset of “the common cold”.
We all know the symptoms: sneezing and coughing; all-over aches and pains; and irritation in the breathing passages and in the ears, nose, or throat. It’s natural for seasonal changes to bring changes in routine, too. In the fall there’s an adjustment we all make to the diminished amount of sunlight as the days grow shorter, and a schedule with more deadlines and social events.

The common cold signals that rest is necessary in order to help restore the body for the cold season ahead. All that sneezing, coughing, and nose-blowing helps to clear congestion; those bodily aches and pains force you to slow down and take yourself out of the everyday demands until you’ve had a chance to regain your strength. It’s easy to forget that sleep and rest are the body’s most effective self-healing mechanisms. Furthermore, our bodies accumulate a great deal of waste from all our immune system processes–colds are one of the best ways to clear these wastes from the system and restore our health and vigour.

That’s why there’s no “magic cure” for a cold. It’s not a simple disease, it’s actually necessary to maintain our health. If we keep this in mind, we can help the body carry out what it sets out to do with the cold.

  • Drink more fluids. You may not feel like eating much, but colds really need to be “fed”, like the old saying says. It’s easier to nourish a cold with liquid foods, such as home-made broths, which are rich in nutrients that are so easy for your body to assimilate. Consider vitamin rich fruit juices, like orange, lemon, and lime aids, instead of using supplements.
  • Make time for rest. Take the time off work, as for help to manage your responsibilities so that you can concentrate on getting well. This will make a difference in terms of how long the cold will stick around. This is the most sensible way to limit your own suffering and to keep others from becoming susceptible through their interactions with you.

If we help this process along, we end up much less susceptible to that other wintry threat: the flu. Influenza is different from a cold in that it affects the body tissues more profoundly, causing infection and inflammation in areas like the upper and lower respiratory tract. The body’s efforts to end the flu’s effects will also be more profound: they include fevers, weakness, and digestive symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms aren’t as easy to ignore as cold symptoms, because they can easily become debilitating.

The best approach to take to the flu is to prevent it.

  • Hand washing with soap and water, or with bacteriostatic cleanser if nothing else is available, is still the best precaution against “catching” cold or flu. It’s also wise to avoid touching your face (especially around your eyes, nose, or mouth) after having contact with another person, or with a surface you know others have touched. Taking care to use tissue when sneezing and covering your mouth when coughing is a good way of keeping others from exposure–in fact, staying away from others when you know you can expose them to your illness is one of the best things you can do to keep yourself and others healthy.

It’s unfortunate that so many people simply cannot take time from work because they can’t afford to go without the pay or they feel their jobs are at risk if they choose to be absent, but the reality is that group productivity stays high when all involved are healthy throughout the flu season. For many, physical presence in the workplace isn’t a strict necessity, as so many can now work from home and communicate with co-workers using technology.

Unfortunately, the lowest paid work is usually the kind which demands working with others and with the public–it this is where it is crucial for employers to limit the risk of exposing staff members and clientèle to contagion. Since service sector work is currently the fastest growing type of employment in Canada, and since more people will find themselves faced with the choice between work and health where there is no legal compulsion to compensate workers during illness, then employers will simply force people who aren’t well to expose others to illness. Not only does this prolong individual suffering, it extends and expands the annual flu epidemic. It’s the abusive reality of the workplace in Canada, for millions of people, and it’s a threat to public health.

I would like to see employers urged to encourage those who are ill to stay away from work in order to keep the annual epidemic contained. But we’re seeing another approach to this problem, which is to make each employee feel compelled to take specific “preventive” measures, such as submitting to the heavily subsidized and promoted questionable medications like the annual flu vaccine. Men and women in the workforce (and children too–since sick children need to be cared for, which will force parents to stay home) are compelled to take the vaccines despite their reservations. Though I’d rather see an increase of workplace rights here, alternatives are needed in the meantime. Homeopathy can provide safer and more reliable means of circumventing this illness.

If you’re already under treatment constitutionally with a classical homeopath, it’s rare that you’ll be susceptible to the flu. In case the flu does begin to affect you, the best course of action is to communicate with the homeopath, who will likely prescribe a new dose of your constitutional remedy before giving any other remedy for your acute illness. Your constitutional is always the best remedy to take for any illness you face.

There are other preventive measures that carry none of the risks of vaccines nor any of the harm in suppressive treatments. One of the most well-known is the remedy Anas Barbariae Hepatis et cordis, sold worldwide as Oscillococcinum. This remedy works well when used during a specific window of time: right at the beginning of the flu, at that moment when your nose is running, your body is aching, and you can feel the beginnings of an ear ache and/or a sore throat. You can purchase Oscillococcinum in 3 vial packets to keep on hand just for the occasion when you know you feel your illness coming on. A timely dose will stop the flu in its tracks–but you must make certain that the small window of time when your symptoms match the one created by the remedy doesn’t pass–otherwise, another remedy which would address your more specific and individualized symptoms will have to be considered. Oscillococcinum can be used safely by anyone–children and adults alike.

If you do miss that “window”, Oscillococcinum will still shorten your convalescence time dramatically once your worst flu symptoms have passed. Use it when you no longer suffer from fever but still suffer the lingering body pains, sneezing, and coughing after the worst is over. Follow the directions on the package and if you feel better after taking a dose, and always wait for your symptoms to return before re-dosing. If they never do, you don’t need any more medicine.

Prophylactics and Genus Epidemicus Remedies

Homeopathy has a very long history of success in savings lives and greatly diminishing suffering during epidemics, all over the world. To be brief, Genus Epidemicus prescribing is still an individualized means of prescribing for the totality of the symptoms of each patient, but that totality must also include the reality and boundaries of the epidemic, as well.

During an epidemic, many people become susceptible to a disease in a specific area during a specific time–and it so happens that the epidemic affects many patients with very different constitutions (but they all suffer the same way, and they all suffer because of the same source of contagion). It’s a “collective disease” with its own set of signs and symptoms–and homeopaths will try very hard to understand the totality of the epidemic disease in order to select the best remedy for its treatment. That remedy can then be used as a treatment for those afflicted, and as a prophylactic, which will keep all exposed to the disease from becoming ill.

During a Scarlet Fever epidemic in Hahnemann’s lifetime, he noted that Belladonna was the remedy which cured but also prevented the spread of the epidemic disease. During the cholera epidemic which victimized much of the world in the early to mid 1800’s, the most widely used genus epidemicus remedy was Camphora. Camphora was so effective it lowered the death rate from the deadly disease to less than 1% of those afflicted. More importantly, it allowed the doctors treating the sick to administer their care with much less fear, because they were able to dose themselves with the medicine and thus avoid succumbing to the disease themselves. Cholera spread so rapidly and so widely partly because doctors who relied on conventional treatment methods rarely survived the disease themselves. The death rate among doctors, before homeopathic Camphora, was as high as the death rate in the afflicted populations. Doctors throughout Europe simply abandoned patients and kept moving to areas where the epidemic had not yet traveled, in order to keep themselves and their own families alive. Camphora’s widespread use as a prophylactic saved millions of lives and was essential in limiting the extent of the epidemic itself.

But every epidemic is slightly different, as we know with the annual flu epidemic–often the boundaries change, the conditions affecting those within the boundaries are different in each epidemic, any number of factors can play in how the epidemic disease affects those afflicted. Genus Epidemicus prescribing means that once again that epidemic must be seen in its totality and an appropriate remedy or remedies must again be found in each instance. The fact is, each epidemic has its own individual disease–the flu epidemic from last year is not the same as the flu epidemic of this year (even when scientists declare that it’s exactly the same “bug” or flu virion). If we think of the infamous flu epidemic of 1918, twenty percent of the entire world population suffered and twenty to forty million people died. During this epidemic, homeopathic medicines were widely used, both for treatment and as prophylaxis. The average mortality rate under the conventional medical treatments ran from 2.5 to 10%, while 1% or fewer patients died under homeopathic treatment. Gelsemium sempervirens, Arsenicum album and Bryonia alba were the primary remedies used in the United States during this epidemic, and today we know that these remedies continue to be very effective in treating the flu in patients every year. But they simply aren’t always the most effective for treatment or prevention in every flu epidemic: each individual epidemic’s Genus Epidemicus remedies will always be the most effective in treating most patients, and in keeping those exposed but not yet ill from becoming susceptible to the epidemic disease.

Homeopaths regularly exchange information about the flu epidemic annually, gathering and comparing clinic notes from all over the world in order to discern which remedies are most effective for each year’s specific epidemic. Last year’s flu epidemic–complete with hysteria about H1N1 and Swine flu–became easily managed and preventable with remedies like Causticum, Rumex Crispus, and Arsenicum. The 2010/2011 flu season has just begun–I’ll post the latest GE remedies– and the characteristic flu symptoms they cure –as they become apparent.