H1N1 Virus: How to Protect Yourself from Swine Flu and Alternatives to the Vaccination

Autumn is here and, with it, cold and flu season. A lot of patients are asking me about the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach to treating colds and flu, especially with the concern this year about the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus.

Q: What are your thoughts about the flu shot and H1N1 (Swine Flu) vaccine?

A: While I can’t make a specific recommendation as to whether you should or should not get the vaccine, please do read up on the safety of the vaccine. The CDC offers answers to FAQs regarding the vaccine here. In my own research I have come across a clinical trial that is currently being conducted, but not scheduled to be completed until April 2010.

A CBS piece summarizes some of the concerns parents have regarding the vaccination here. Parents are particularly hesitant about the safety of such a newly introduced vaccine and the possible inclusion of chemical additives like Themerosol.

If you do choose to get a flu shot this season, acupuncture treatments can help prepare your body for the vaccine and help with any side effects.

Here are some things for you to consider in your decision:

The flu shot and H1N1 vaccine introduce pathogens to your body, essentially to give the body a preview of the bacteria, virus, or toxin it may be exposed to. This allows the body to learn how to defend itself in advance. If the body is ever invaded by that particular pathogen after the vaccine has done its work, your immune system is ready. Some people may experience illness or other side effects from the vaccine itself.

TCM treatments, given before and after a vaccination, strengthen the body to prepare for the pathogens before you receive vaccine and also “release heat” from the body after the vaccine is administered. (Similar treatments are available for infants and young children who are vaccinated against other illnesses.)

Q: How can Acupuncture and Chinese medicine help me avoid or treat colds and flu this season?

A: In TCM, we focus on strengthening the body to increase immunity (how well your body is able to fight off illness). With regular acupuncture treatments, you can strengthen your immune system and decrease your incidences of cold and flu in the coming months. The best time to start treatments to prevent the cold and flu is the season before (early Autumn), which is now!

Acupuncture treatments and herbs can also alleviate symptoms if you do catch a cold or flu. Chances are the treatments you’ve gotten will help your body better fight the illness – it will be more mild and you will get over it more quickly. If you tend to be susceptible to getting multiple colds and flus in the winter, schedule an appointment for acupuncture and herbs today!

Other tips for avoiding and treating colds and flu:

  • In Chinese Medicine, we try to avoid “catching a cold or wind.” As the air is becoming more crisp and cool, even when the sun is out, wear a scarf to protect your neck from being cold, keep your torso and feet warm and don’t go outdoors with wet hair.
  • At the first sign of a cold or flu, rest and get extra sleep. Listen to your body’s need for rest and try not to “push through” your illness. Especially this season, stay home to prevent spreading the illness to others.
  • Drink warm teas, broths, and eat nutritious whole foods. Eat less processed sugar. If you have phlegm/mucus, avoid dairy products (especially unfermented dairy and citrus). Honey soothes sore throats and helps with coughs.
  • Mild exercise is okay; intense exercise will only deplete your immune system further.
  • Double dose your probiotics. A healthy gut can help your body fight off a nasty pathogen.
  • A simple formula of four Chinese herbs has been shown to be beneficial at warding of swine flu. Come in for an appointment to see if these are appropriate for you.

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