Season of the sick

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Autumn leaves litter the Park Blocks as cold weather sets in, announcing the beginning of influenza (flu) season. Classrooms crammed with students are a breeding ground for viruses that cause influenza. It is up to healthy students to protect themselves, but what is the best method?

Some students take no preventative measures, leaving their chances to fate. These are typically the same people who end up with runny noses, headaches, sore throats, fevers, achy muscles, coughs and fatigue. Influenza normally lasts four to five days but can lead to more serious, and even fatal, conditions such as pneumonia. Each year in the United States, 5 to 20 percent of the population catches the flu, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 36,000 people die from it.

Flu shots are increasing in popularity, thanks to the American ideal that all of life’s woes have instantaneous remedies. It is a major medical decision taken so lightly that people line up, not at sanitary doctors’ clinics where they can first receive sound medical advice, but at Targets and other commonplace drugstores that are likely to have products spilled on the floor. Beware vegans and those allergic to eggs-an egg protein is contained within the vaccine.

For those queasy about needles, LAIV (FluMist) is a nasal spray vaccine. Both vaccines include side effects: runny nose, headache, sore throat and cough. They consist of three influenza strains that experts hypothesize will be the most prevalent for the upcoming year. This means there may be hundreds of strains that the vaccines are ineffective against. Each year, a new shot is needed because the influenza strains are constantly changing and adapting.

Pharmaceuticals and government agencies promote influenza vaccines, but several individual testimonies from previous years come from vaccinated people who still caught the flu, and sometimes worse than ever before. Others boast that they were vaccinated and didn’t become ill, though they may not have gotten sick even if they hadn’t taken the shot. Therefore, statistics are hard to compile, and since this is a relatively new development, long-term effects are vastly unknown.

Instead of forcing foreign substances into our bodies, nature luckily gives us another option. When germs enter our bodies, our immune systems send white blood cells to destroy them. They swell at the site of the infection, and mucus is secreted to trap pathogens, causing a normally functioning immune system to dispel toxins via a runny nose, sneezing and coughing. It is important for the body to excrete this phlegm so that it doesn’t weaken the immune system.

There are several things that can be done to strengthen an immune system. A low-stress life with a healthy diet, ample sleep, plenty of water, herbal teas and vegetable juices will boost immune function and enhance detoxification. A diet high in processed foods lowers the immune system, because the body must spend its energies ridding itself of toxins such as synthetic colors, flavorings and preservatives. Sugar should also be avoided, as it reduces the abilities of white blood cells.

Drink plenty of water to flush out toxins. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. During influenza season, it’s recommended in Alternative Medicine by Deepak Chopra, M.D., to eat vegetables high in beta carotene, which is also good for eyesight. Leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, as well as orange vegetables like carrots and yams, contain the most beta-carotene. Garlic is a natural antibiotic that combats infection, but often loses many of its medicinal properties once heated. Vitamin C enhances white blood cell production, and studies show that it either prevents or lessens the duration of influenza. Vitamin A, zinc and selenium also help fight off influenza.

Packed with vitamins and herbs, Airborne and Emergen-C continue to gain popularity for one simple fact: they work. Herbs that boost the immune system include echinacea, goldenseal, licorice, elder, St. John’s wort and astragalus. Before taking any herbal supplements, make sure that they don’t counteract any medications that you may be taking. St. John’s wort often counteracts birth control pills, rendering them inactive.

Nature’s preventions just feel better than man’s synthetic concoctions. However, if you’re determined to get the flu shot, get medical advice first. PSU’s Center for Student Health and Counseling is holding flu clinics on Monday, Oct. 22 and Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. A vaccine will be available to eligible students for only $15.

Stay healthy.

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