Swine Flu - Reluctantly
I was hoping that we were done with this issue -- that I had pretty much covered it in my blog of 4/26. Unfortunately, that seems not to be the case for three reasons. First, questions about H1N1 are still pouring into the Foundation by the hundreds. Second, although the issue has largely faded from the news, the threat is not necessarily gone yet. I do not say this lightly, and remember, I was among the first to say that fear of the swine flu was largely unwarranted at the present time. In other words, there really is still a threat, and it is not pandering to say so. And third, it looks like H1N1 is going to serve as an excuse for government agencies around the world to come down like the proverbial ton of bricks on the alternative health industry. In any case, I will deal with swine flu one more time, and hopefully that will put it to rest...at least until flu season returns in the fall.
Oh yes, before we continue, it's no longer called swine flu. For a number of reasons, that name has been dropped all over the world. In America, for example, after objections by the pork industry that the name "swine flu" constantly appearing in the media was hurting sales of pork, US government agencies officially began referring to the illness as A/H1N1. In Israel, on the other hand, the word "swine" itself is considered unclean (religiously speaking), and therefore was offensive to people seeing and hearing it in the news. So government agencies and the media in Israel began referring to the illness as Mexican Flu.
So now let's address some of the more interesting questions/issues concerning H1N1 that have arisen in the last two weeks.
Why is it deadlier in Mexico?
There are three possible reasons:
First, the Mexican deaths may not actually be the direct result of H1N1. They may, in fact, be the result of some underlying co-infection or health problem that is not present outside of Mexico. And in fact, after the original numbers of deaths in Mexico topped 150, the World Health Organization stated that only seven of those deaths could actually be attributed to H1N1. (Numbers were later revised to 168 deaths, with 12 confirmed as H1N1.)
The WHO's Vivienne Allan, from its patient safety program, emphatically states: "Unfortunately that (150-plus deaths) is incorrect information and it does happen, but that's not information that's come from the World Health Organization. I repeat, the death toll is seven and they are all from Mexico."
More recent numbers now list Mexico with 45 confirmed deaths out of 1364 cases. In the U.S., the numbers are a mere two deaths out of 3,000 confirmed and probable cases. But one of those deaths should probably be counted in Mexico since it represents a toddler who died after being brought into the U.S. on a family visit. Note: where you count that death is actually quite significant since it literally doubles the mortality rate in the US from .033 percent to .066 percent. Doesn't sound like much until you talk about a pandemic with millions of people infected -- then you're talking about twice the number of deaths. In any case, as I predicted in my blog during the height of the hysteria, there was no reason for panic. The true mortality rate of swine flu at this point in time is likely to be no different than regular seasonal flu.
Another possibility is that the virus simply wasn't recognized as quickly in Mexico where it started and that people were not treated as rapidly and effectively as they have been in other countries.
And finally, it's possible that A/H1N1 started out as a more virulent strain in Mexico and that over time it "evolved" into a less virulent form, and it is that less virulent form that is appearing beyond Mexico's borders. Although there is no DNA evidence to this effect at the present time, it would not be unusual if it happened, as viruses that kill too quickly self-limit their ability to move from host to host. This is why we have not seen Ebola virus, which kills in as little as two days to three weeks, even hint at becoming a pandemic, whereas AIDS, which takes years to kill, has spread to every country in the world. In fact, there is some evidence that AIDS has become significantly less lethal over the last few years. And in fact, H1N1 may be doing this too, but at an even faster rate. Then again, many flu viruses "evolve" in the opposite direction -- having a fairly mild initial outbreak, only to return several months later in a far more deadly form. (We'll talk about this more later.) In fact, all four of the major flu pandemics in modern history (at least those for which records exist) have come in a series of increasingly deadly waves.
The Baseline of Health® Foundation has received numerous emails explaining that the outbreak of H1N1 is part of a grand conspiracy, and that I am naïve for not understanding that. Unfortunately, each email seems to be citing a different conspiracy, and they are all mutually exclusive. For example:
- It is a hoax of vague purpose -- cry wolf, a cover-up, a test, a diversion?
- It represents the attempts of unspecified governments' (although the United States is usually implied) to depopulate the planet.
- According to unspecified UN scientists, swine flu was definitely created in a laboratory as a bio-weapon.
- Swine flu was created to populate FEMA internment camps.
There are at least a dozen other theories out there as to why H1N1 is part of a grand conspiracy, but as I said, they are mutually contradictory. For example, if it's a hoax, then it wasn't created in a lab or anywhere -- it doesn't exist at all. Yes? If we were to accept the hoax theory, then all the theories about why it was created would be moot by definition. Is that to say that it is impossible that swine flu is being manipulated by design? Not at all; it is quite possible -- just not very likely.
It should also be noted that there's nothing unusual about a strain of flu mixing DNA from pigs, birds, and humans. It's been known for a number of years that pigs are susceptible to avian flu, human flu, and their own strains of flu. It's also well known that their bodies are like little DNA factories capable of mixing DNA from all these sources to create brand new strains of flu that they can then be passed back to both birds and humans. There is nothing unusual in this. It doesn't require a conspiracy. In fact, H1N1 has demonstrated not only the ability to jump from pigs to humans, but from human to human, and most disturbingly, from humans back into pigs. This significantly increases the chances of developing a virus mutation that is indeed far more deadly to humans. Or to look at it another way, it's like H1N1 has the ability to run its DNA factories on triple shifts, across multiple species, dramatically increasing its ability to generate deadly variations.
Why does swine flu kill healthy people?
It still amazes me that most news stories and so called medical experts miss this point. Although the number of deaths from H1N1 may be debatable, what is not debatable is that the majority of those deaths have occurred in the young and healthy, not in the very old, the very young, or those with compromised immune systems. This is a HUGE distinction, and if not understood, can lead to potentially deadly misinformation. As I explained in my blog, this is one element that H1N1 shares in common with the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 that killed 50-100 million people and with avian flu that demonstrated mortality rates of up to 90%. Those flus too focused on the young and healthy. Why?
It's because this strain of swine flu, like the avian flu and Spanish flu before it, seems to have the ability to turn a person's immune system against itself so that it eats up the victim's lungs in what is known as a cytokine storm. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, this distinction has been lost on most people, so many "health experts" are advocating taking immune enhancing supplements in great abundance for protection against the swine flu. Am I saying that using immune boosters is a mistake? No! But I am saying that using natural immune boosters without using pathogen destroyers to take down the viral load very well might be.
In arly May, on Bill Maher's Real Time show, Bill proposed to his guest, former FDA Director, David Kessler, that people wouldn't have to worry about swine flu if they just had strong immune systems. Shockingly, Dr. Kessler did not disagree with that statement, or even qualify it. That Bill did not understand the issue is not a big deal; that Dr. Kessler did not is downright scary.
What supplements should I take?
In my blog, I recommended a specific list of supplements to take, including some specific product recommendations. A more complete but generic list can be found in my 2005 newsletter dealing with avian flu.
Nevertheless, over the last two weeks we have received dozens and dozens of emails asking about this product and that product and its effect on H1N1. There is no way in the world we can keep up with every product on the market; there are simply too many. For now, stick with the links above. That said, let me deal with two specific requests that came in multiple times.
What about colloidal silver? Would that be effective? It probably is. Colloidal silver is effective against most viruses. But I don't recommend it for internal use. If taken in sufficient quantity, colloidal silver can definitely cause agryria, an irreversible blue/gray discoloration of the skin. Although rare as the result of using colloidal silver, agryria in colloidal silver users has definitely been documented in more than a few cases. Since there are equally effective alternatives, why would you risk it? It's also worth noting that the condition, although not harmful, is irreversible. Heavy metal chelation formulations will not correct the gray color of your skin.
What about Oscillococinum? Would that be effective? I have read that "Oscillococinum, a homeopathic remedy, has been vindicated as quite effective in a large clinical trial in Europe, with an H1N1 variant."
It very well might be effective against swine flu, but there is really no convincing evidence to support its effectiveness. Although several studies have found Oscillo to be effective against the flu in general, those same studies also concluded that the effect was small. When dealing with flus that are potentially deadly, you probably want something with a stronger effect. And as for stating that Oscillo "has been vindicated as quite effective in a large clinical study in Europe," there are several interesting observations that can be made.
- Every mention of this study contains the EXACT same wording -- with no variation. This means everyone is just copying the same original single source. If the first source is inaccurate, multiple repetitions do not make it correct.
- Not one site that talks about the European study contains an actual reference to it. Interesting!
- If such a study existed for this particular strain it would be a miraculous study indeed. How else to account for a "large clinical study" that validated the effectiveness of Oscillo against swine flu, when the virus was literally discovered less than a month ago -- and in Europe, no less, where the virus made its first appearance a mere two weeks ago. In fact, if you used every suspected victim in the world to the point when these announcements started appearing, it wouldn't qualify as a large study. And even now, every victim in Europe would not qualify as a large study.
- And finally, any study based on previous H1N1 strains would not be particularly meaningful for this new Mexian variant, which offers a never before seen mix of DNA.
The bottom line is that Oscillo may very well prove to be effective against swine flu in the future, but to imply that it's already been "vindicated" as a treatment is out and out misleading.
What about Tamiflu, Relenza, and vaccines?
Tamiflu and Relenza are essentially the same drug based on the active ingredient found in the star anise plant. They are the FDA's recommendation for dealing with A/H1N1. Unfortunately, variations of H1N1 started showing resistance to these drugs over a year ago. At the moment, they are barely effective against the latest swine flu variation; but as I pointed out in my blog, barely effective may be enough -- at the moment -- when dealing with H1N1 since they seem able to stop the cytokine storm in most people. But already some people are dying even when given the drugs. Given more time, that resistance can only grow, ultimately rendering the drugs completely useless -- as are their sister anti-flu drugs known as adamantanes. In fact, thanks to the indiscriminate sale of Tamiflu to hundreds of thousands of private individuals throughout the world who are more than likely not to follow directions carefully when using the drug on their own, the breeding of a totally resistant strain is absolutely inevitable.
Recommendations to rely exclusively on Tamiflu and Relenza if a serious outbreak of H1N1 occurs are likely to become a death sentence for millions. Let's hope there is no serious outbreak.
As for vaccines, there are no vaccines for H1N1 at the present time. Of course, the pharmaceutical companies are hard at work trying to create one based on the current strain loose in the world. And that's the problem -- any vaccine they create will be based on the current strain and will not be available for months. If a second wave of the swine flu hits this fall that is more virulent, it will be more virulent because it has mutated. In other words, it will be a different strain. There may be, cross your fingers, enough similarity that the vaccine provides some protection, but it will be a crap shoot. And in general, flu vaccines are far less effective than governments and medical professionals would have you believe.
So, are we in the clear with H1N1?
According to the press and many government health officials, it would seem so. As Richard Besser, the acting director of Centers for Disease Control, said, we are "seeing encouraging signs that this virus so far is not looking more severe than a strain that we would see during seasonal flu." And on Google, a search of their news stories on health over the last couple of days has not included even a single mention of swine flu. This is a far, far cry from the pandemic mongering going on just two weeks ago when I wrote in my blog that an imminent pandemic was unlikely.
However, it is premature to say we are out of the woods on swine flu. Although the virus has shown itself to be relatively mild to this point, that doesn't mean it will remain so. As we discussed earlier, all previous swine flu epidemics (including the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918) came in waves, starting mild and mutating to more dangerous forms over several months. The problems with H1N1 can only be more concerning now that it has shown the ability to jump back into pigs, where its evolution to more hostile forms can become both more likely and more imminent -- given the inherent ability of pigs to mix and match DNA. The bottom line is that until the next flu season ends (probably around the end of March 2010), we won't know how bad H1N1 really can/will be.
So far my calls on potential epidemics have been spot on -- predicting that SARS, Avian flu, and the first wave of Swine flu would all prove relatively benign. And as I've promised in each of those crises, I will keep you informed if anything changes and what to do about it if it does. In the meantime, my recommendations remain the same. Since the recommendations are fairly extensive, I won't repeat them here. Just check out the end of the blog for specifics. In the meantime, I'd recommend keeping your medicine cabinet stocked with sufficient immune boosters and natural antivirals as listed in my recommendations to cover you through any illness -- be it a common cold, a regular flu, or some mutation of the swine or avian flu. You want these supplements on hand when you first start feeling sick, not when the illness is full blown.
Conclusion -- very bad news from the FDA and the FTC
On May 1st, the FDA released a statement, essentially saying that no natural alternatives exist for dealing with the flu. They specifically said, that the only "antiviral drugs approved by the FDA for treatment and prophylaxis of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus are Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir)." Tamiflu and Relenza! Great recommendations considering how barely effective we know them to be against the flu.
Unfortunately, the Natural Products Association (NPA), the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) immediately rolled over, exposed their bellies, and issued a joint warning against any "natural" remedies that are being promoted as ways to prevent or treat H1N1 influenza, stating, "We are unaware of any scientific data supporting the use of dietary supplements to treat swine flu." On a more positive note, they also stated, "There are dietary supplements that have much to offer in terms of enhancing general immune function. However, therapies for the treatment of swine flu should only be recommended by qualified healthcare professionals or public health authorities."
While technically true that there is no data supporting the effectiveness of supplements specifically against H1N1, that's hardly surprising since the virus made its first appearance less than a month ago. Who's had the time or money to run a study on it? What we do know, on the other hand is that:
- Tamiflu and Relenza are barely effective and that some people have died who relied on them as their sole treatment.
- A number of natural substances have proven to have powerful antiviral effects over the entire existence of humanity -- with no signs that viruses have been able to mutate around them. And there is a veritable orgy of studies supporting that fact.
Well, if the NPA, CRN, and AHPA thought that submission would actually buy them a pass on their more positive statement concerning immunity, they were sadly mistaken. On May 5th, the Federal Trade Commission piled on and announced that they were going far beyond the FDA's limited statement on swine flu and that as far as they were concerned, any natural supplement company using the word "immunity" was likely to see "very swift and very serious enforcement action." So much for the virtues of abject surrender.
The bottom line is that the biggest damage from the swine flu outbreak may yet turn out to be that it is being used as an excuse by the FDA and FTC (and ultimately government agencies throughout the world) to come down on complementary health like a sledge hammer leaving pharmaceutical drugs as their only option. Incidentally, no legislation is required to do this. It can all be done by agency fiat. As I have repeatedly tried to remind people, the real danger to alternative health is not from "big legislation" but from behind the scenes directives that require no public oversight or legislative approval.
As Geena Davis said in The Fly, "Be afraid. Be very afraid."