Fighting the Flu Without the Shot

WebMD Live Events Transcript

With the shortage of flu shots this year, what can you do to ward off a winter's-worth of sneezing and fevers? A dose of WebMD Live might help. Integrative medicine expert Andrew Weil, MD, joined us on Nov. 4, 2004, with his tips for flu prevention and treatment.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live, Dr. Weil. Thank you for joining us today. With the shortage of flu vaccine in the US, people are concerned about what, if anything, they can do to avoid getting sick. What are you doing to avoid the flu this year?

WEIL:
First I will try to avoid contact with people who are sick. Second, I will wash my hands frequently after being out in public. I will carry some alcohol wipes with me when I'm on planes or in public and use them on my hands frequently. I will take astragalus, a Chinese herb with antiviral and immune boosting properties, through the flu season. And of course, I'll keep up my general health habits.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is astragalus safe for a 5 year old?

WEIL:
Yes, it is safe. I would give it in half the adult dose.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What dose of astragalus should we take?

WEIL:
I would get a standardized brand of astragalus and follow the recommendation on the product. It's a completely safe herb.

MODERATOR:
How severe will the flu season be? Will the lack of flu shots have that much of an impact?

WEIL:
I don't think the lack of flu shots will have that much of an impact The severity of the flu season depends on the strain of the flu going around, and there's no indication this year's will be any worse than we've seen in the past few years.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I live in a tourist state, Florida. Should I be more concerned?

WEIL:
I think the numbers of people you interact with is a factor. So the general rule is if you're out in public, meeting lots of people, wash your hands frequently.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Dr. Weil, do you think the flu shot is effective and worth getting, since it is only an estimate of which strain will be the most prevalent that year?

WEIL:
You're right; it's a gamble. Usually the CDC gets it more or less right. I just saw an interesting piece of research from Europe suggesting that people over 65 who have annual flu shots are generally healthier than people who don't. The reason for that is not known.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I traveled to Brazil recently and came back with guarana powder. I understand it may improve our natural resistance to flu related germs, increase stamina, and curb appetite because of its caffeine-like properties. The indigenous people in the Amazon region swear by it. What are your thoughts and experience with this natural guarana powder?

WEIL:
Guarana is a caffeine-containing seed widely consumed in beverages in Brazil and available here in various forms. It is a stimulant, like coffee, and I know of no general health benefits for it or any specific effects on flu.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is
echinacea good for immune support?

WEIL:
Yes. There's a great deal of research showing that echinacea increases the immune function. It's quite safe. I use it if I feel a cold coming on. I don't know how effective it is as a preventive. I think astragalus is a better bet in reducing chances of getting the flu.

"There's a great deal of research showing that echinacea increases the immune function. It's quite safe."

MEMBER QUESTION:
What dose of echinacea do you take for keeping a cold at bay?

WEIL:
For adults I recommend one teaspoon of echinacea tincture in a little water four times a day. If you use a capsule form, follow the dosage recommendations on the product. Echinacea is quite safe.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Dr. Weil, as a doctor, how do you avoid being around sick people?

WEIL:
I don't work in hospitals very much. I supervise an outpatient clinic and I wash my hands frequently. The main route of the flu virus is from hands to eyes and mouth. By the way, the flu virus can exist on inanimate objects, like doorknobs, for some time.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Do liquid hand sanitizers work as well as alcohol wipes?

WEIL:
I think alcohol wipes are preferable because they don't contribute to bacterial resistance. Many of the antibacterial products on the market are not as good an idea.

By the way, ordinary soap and warm water is fine if you wash long enough, about the length of time it takes to sing happy birthday.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Living on a college campus, what types of things can I do to avoid the flu, other than getting the flu shot?

WEIL:
Keep up good habits of nutrition; exercise, stress reduction and rest, all of which may be easier said than done when you're in college. I'd also recommend following the advice given above about the hand washing and taking astragalus during the flu season.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Would you advise taking astragalus if you are in your 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy?

WEIL:
Generally I discourage women from taking anything in the first trimester. Astragalus is completely nontoxic. I think it would be fine to take later in pregnancy.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Would you advise taking astragalus once you have taken a flu shot?

WEIL:
Again, it can't hurt, because astragalus has general immune boosting effects and can help against colds.

MEMBER QUESTION:
My husband will NOT get the flu shot. Friends have been telling him that the mercury in the shots, plus the flu itself, can make him deathly sick, and also can affect his health in other ways. I always get the shot, and nothing affects me at all. What can I tell him to get him to listen to me and get the shot? We live with my elderly parents, and I am afraid of giving it to them.

WEIL:
A mercury compound has been used as a preservative in some vaccines, but I don't think that's true for the flu shot. In any case, this is being phased out. I think the risk of flu shots is minimal.




STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!