Global outbreaks of influenza affect us more than you might think. Our friends Down Under have just had a particularly nasty flu season. Three times more Australians than the annual average were hospitalized for the flu, and over 200 died. Since our jet-setting, global lifestyles make it easy for influenza viruses to spread, the 2019–2020 Canadian flu season is likely to be a particularly harsh one.
For decades, Canadians have relied on the flu shot to protect themselves against various strains of the influenza virus. However, unlike other vaccines, the flu vaccine's formulation changes each year, with a new formulation being created based on a projection of what researchers think will likely be the prevalent flu strains in the upcoming season.
Although their estimates are founded on scientific evidence, they are not always dead-on and when they're off-target, which has been the case in the past few years, it can mean a dismal and deadly flu season.
Despite the uncertainty and decline of the flu vaccine's effectiveness (VE), medical practitioners and pharmacists still recommend getting vaccinated, based on clinical evidence gathered on influenza patients: those who had received the flu shot and still contracted the virus had milder symptoms than those who hadn't gotten the jab.
This flu season, double down on cold and flu prevention... naturally
"Considering this latest prediction and the changing strains of viruses currently attacking the population, now more than ever, it is important that Canadians consider complementary measures that can help in the prevention, and if necessary the treatment, of colds and flu," said Sherry Torkos, pharmacist and author of the Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
While a number of effective prevention strategies exist, the most important of all is maintaining a strong immune system, which enables your body to fight off an infection before it gets out of control and makes you sick.
The most popular and well-researched immune modulator: Echinacea purpurea
In 2012, scientists at the Cardiff University School of Biosciences completed the largest clinical double-blind, placebo-controlled study ever carried out using an Echinacea purpurea preparation made from fresh, organic, GMO-free plants. The study found that this particular Echinacea preparation, A.Vogel's Echinaforce, was deemed safe when taken as directed for up to four months as an immune system modulator, and reduced the odds of catching a cold or flu by 50%.
Echinaforce also has Health Canada's stamp of approval as a safe and effective tool for prevention. It can be taken on its own or combined with the flu shot for optimum protection. It's also safe to take daily as directed throughout the cold and flu season.
Additional research shows that study participants who did get sick had fewer symptoms, shorter absences from work or school, and a 65% reduced risk for complications such as bronchitis, pneumonia and sinusitis.
Bonomo, Melia E, Deem, Michael W. Predicting Influenza H3N2 Vaccine Efficacy from Evolution of the Dominant Epitope. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2018; DOI: 10.1093/cid/ciy323
Pleschka S, Stein M, Schoop R, Hudson JB. Anti-viral properties and mode of action of standardized Echinacea purpurea extract against highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (H5N1, H7N7) and swine-origin H1N1 (S-OIV). Virol J. 2009 Nov 13;6:197.
Sharma M, Anderson SA, Schoop R, Hudson JB. Induction of multiple pro-inflammatory cytokines by respiratory viruses and reversal by standardized Echinacea, a potent antiviral herbal extract. Antiviral Res. 2009 Aug;83(2):165-70.
Jawad M, Schoop R, Suter A, Klein P, Eccles R. Safety and efficacy profile of Echinacea purpurea to prevent common cold episodes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. ECAM. 2012; 2012: 841315. doi: 10.1155/2012/841315.
Shah, SA, et al. Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis. Lancet Infect Dis.