Influenza, Part 4: Treatment

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In previous parts of this series on influenza, we discussed

  • What the flu virus is and how it mutates (Part 1)
  • All about immunity (Part 2)
  • Prevention strategies (Part 3)

In this article, we’ll talk about various methods of conventional and natural treatment of your patients with influenza.

Symptoms of the Flu

To review, common signs and symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever over 100 F (38 C)
  • Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headache
  • Dry cough
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nasal congestion

You may note that these symptoms are very similar to the common cold.  Sometimes, it may be difficult to differentiate between these two illnesses.  For a thorough discussion of how to tell the difference, see our 2011 article:  Colds vs. Flus.

Treatment Strategies for Influenza

Your strategy should be preventive but, despite this, there will be circumstances where people come down with the flu.  Treatment of the above individual symptoms listed above with over the counter medications is a perfectly reasonable plan of action.  You would:

  • Give Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin for fevers, headaches, and muscle aches.
  • Give Robitussin DM(dextromethorphan and guaifenisen) or similar meds for cough (best used in adults only, although there are pediatric versions)
  • Give Diphenhydramine, phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or similar meds for nasal congestion.  Be aware that some of these medications may raise blood pressure.  (Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, a highly addictive “recreational” drug, so may be difficult to accumulate in quantity.)

In addition:

  • Give plenty of fluids, but be careful: Some of your flu patients will be nauseous and will tolerate only intermittent sips.
  • Enforce rest and sleep, if possible. Your patient’s body is working overtime to fight the infection.  More strain on it may prolong the duration of the flu.
  • Start steam inhalation therapy and apply warm compresses to the sinus areas to relieve congestion and headache.
  • Give warm salt water gargles to loosen up thick mucus that builds up in the back of the throat.  This treatment is especially effective in the morning.
  • Use a neti pot with sterile saline solution to irrigate out inflamed nasal passages.  In survival, however, you may not be able to assure sterility.  Using non-sterile solution in the neti pot is associated with certain infections caused by contamination.

You might be able to decrease the severity and duration of the illness if you stockpiled some antiviral medications like Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza).

Antiviral medications like Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir (Relenza) are not antibiotics.  Antibiotics, such as Amoxicillin, are most effective against bacteria, and will do little, if anything, to treat the flu.  Tamiflu and Relenza may be helpful, but it’s important to know that they work best if started in the first 48 hours after symptoms appear.  After that window of time, their effectiveness drops significantly.

In long-term disaster scenarios, the pharmaceuticals will run out after a period of time.  Therefore, it makes sense to have a working knowledge of natural remedies that may be useful. These include:

Vitamin C:  Long term use of vitamin C appears to decrease the length of viral infections by about a day at doses of 2000 mg/day. Some people develop stomach upset and diarrhea at high doses.

Zinc: This mineral may prevent the formation of certain proteins that cold viruses use to reproduce themselves.  These sometimes come in throat lozenges, which can also treat scratchiness. Take immediately upon development of flu symptoms.

Chicken Soup: It turns out that Grandma was right! Inhaling the steam can ease nasal congestion. The fluids can help avoid dehydration, and some believe the soup may soothe inflammation.

Echinacea: Like vitamin C, some report that Echinacea tea  three times a day for 7 days may decrease the duration of flu symptoms.

Garlic:  One of Nurse Amy’s favorites, it has antiviral and antibiotic properties.

Menthol:  Apply a menthol ointment under the nose or on the chest and throat. It can relieve irritated skin due to blowing the nose.  Also, the medicated vapors that contain menthol or camphor may help relieve coughing or nasal congestion

The above are just some of the home remedies that can get your patient through the misery of the flu. Use both conventional and natural methods, and you’ll be implementing all the tools in the medical woodshed.

Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones


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