Monday, November 8, 2010

Blog #17 The Most Hysterical TIme of the Year

Bundled in my overcoat and out walking my dogs, I cannot help but appreciate the crisp air and beautiful foliage. The joggers are out and the left over Halloween pumpkins seem to wink as you pass by or perhaps they are just spoiling and sagging some. Still, fall would be absolutely perfect except for one sour note. Yes, it is time for the annual drug company induced flu hysteria.

“The flu is coming, the flu is coming,” is the battle cry. “Experts advise the best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu shot or flu mist,” shout the television commercials. I ran into flu shot "clinics" at the airport. And then, while looking for an elusive shower cap, at several pharmacies. All utilized cleverly worded signs to entice or frighten the consumer into submitting to unproven technologies. You cannot avoid being affected by the deluge or the very seductive word, “free”. Everyone likes getting stuff for free.

For me, the result is many phone calls and e-mails. The first came from my friend, Lizzy. Lizzy evaluates children for sensory processing issues. She sounded awful on the answering machine. “What should I do?” she wanted to know. She had been testing a child who had come directly to her office after getting a dose of the flu mist. He had been sneezing throughout the session and now, several hours later she was feeling heavy headed and achy.

You may recall from several years ago when experts unequivocally stated the flu mist did not work. Part of the problem was it contains a live virus so it had a tendency to cause the flu. That was the year that Walmart was naively squirting the viral mist up the noses of its shoppers only to find that they would wander over to the deodorant aisle and sneeze. Viral clean-up needed on aisle 7. It did not take them long to figure out they were potentially spreading more flu than they were preventing.

Now Lizzy was worried she was coming down with the flu. It was still early enough for her immune system to fight it off. She upped her vitamin C, probiotics and immediately took a packet of a powerful natural killer cell enhancer called ProBoost. I had introduced her to ProBoost several years ago and she has not been sick since. I told her to take a second packet the next morning and to take one large (25,000 IU) one time dose of vitamin D. When I talked to her a few days later, she was doing fine, disaster averted.

The calls and e-mails, however, were just beginning. Tania, my loyal assistant called soon after. “They are offering the flu shot and flu mist at my son’s school,” she reported. “I was wondering if I should keep him home that day.”

Good question. “If they were sprinkling virus around the Nordstrom Rack, what would you do?” I asked.

“Show up early to avoid the crowds?” she retorted smarty pants that she is.

Very funny,

“Go to TJ Maxx instead?” she continued on a roll. “I never really liked Nordstrom Rack anyway.”

It is a start, I agreed.

What about the flu shot? That does not contain live virus. Putting aside the questions about the mercury content and other potentially dangerous preservatives for the moment, does it work? Apparently not as the number of people getting the flu is not decreasing despite dramatically higher vaccination levels.

The research, what little there is, has never proven the efficacy of the flu shot. In fact, there have never been the basic studies done on the flu shot that are required of other FDA approved medication. Not a single double blind study.

What a review of 15 studies found was that influenza vaccines were ineffective against influenza-like illnesses, influenza and pneumonia. (The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006.) It also works equivalent to placebo in children under 2. (The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008.) In other words, it does not work.

One study found the flu vaccine may triple the risk for flu-related hospitalization in children with asthma. (May 25, 2009, There are a shocking number of negative studies yet the shot is consistently recommended. (For more flu shot info see:

The best explanation for this incomprehensible disconnect was offered in a brilliant article in the Atlantic Magazine (November 2009), “Does the Vaccine Matter?” According to the article, the research often quoted to promote the shot does not prove the vaccine works but uses conclusions from cohort studies. These studies look at death rates associated with various factors. It is often observed that people who get the flu shot die at a much lower rate than those who do not. So, therefore, the flu shot saves lives, right?

Nope. It turns out that people who get the flu shot die much less often than other people summer, winter, spring and fall. In fact, they die less from all causes all the time because they tend to be healthier to begin with. It is called a “healthy user effect” and completely accounts for the lower death rate in flu shot receivers. When Dr. Lisa Jackson, a brave Seattle based researcher and physician studied the association more closely, she found the shot did not reduce death whatsoever.

But the November 2009 Atlantic Magazine article said it better than I can:

“…. in 2004, Jackson and three colleagues set out to determine whether the mortality difference between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated might be caused by a phenomenon known as the “healthy user effect.” They hypothesized that on average, people who get vaccinated are simply healthier than those who don’t, and thus less liable to die over the short term. People who don’t get vaccinated may be bedridden or otherwise too sick to go get a shot. They may also be more likely to succumb to flu or any other illness, because they are generally older and sicker. To test their thesis, Jackson and her colleagues combed through eight years of medical data on more than 72,000 people 65 and older. They looked at who got flu shots and who didn’t. Then they examined which group’s members were more likely to die of any cause when it was not flu season.

Jackson’s findings showed that outside of flu season, the baseline risk of death among people who did not get vaccinated was approximately 60 percent higher than among those who did, lending support to the hypothesis that on average, healthy people chose to get the vaccine, while the “frail elderly” didn’t or couldn’t. In fact, the healthy-user effect explained the entire benefit that other researchers were attributing to flu vaccine, suggesting that the vaccine itself might not reduce mortality at all. Jackson’s papers “are beautiful,” says Lone Simonsen, who is a professor of global health at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and an internationally recognized expert in influenza and vaccine epidemiology. “They are classic studies in epidemiology, they are so carefully done.”

The results were also so unexpected that many experts simply refused to believe them. Jackson’s papers were turned down for publication in the top-ranked medical journals. One flu expert who reviewed her studies for the Journal of the American Medical Association wrote, “To accept these results would be to say that the earth is flat!” When the papers were finally published in 2006, in the less prominent International Journal of Epidemiology, they were largely ignored by doctors and public-health officials. “The answer I got,” says Jackson, “was not the right answer.”

The entire article is available online.

So, the flu shot and the flu mist do not work. So what does work? To be continued………

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