Colds and influenza are generally regarded as a part of our everyday lives and are seen by many as an inevitable result of living in our modern world, particularly during the colder months. Although they are common in our communities, science has not been able to eliminate the viruses that cause these illnesses.
Although Hippocrates described flu symptoms 2000 years ago, the influenza virus was not isolated until 1932. The word influenza is said to come from 15th century Florence where the disease was attributed to cosmological influences—’la influenza’. Both colds and flu are thought to be ‘diseases of civilisation’—which first started when people changed from mobile lifestyles based on hunting and gathering, to those of living in permanent dwellings 12,000 to 14,000 years ago in the fertile crescent of the Middle East and in parts of South East Asia. In these early dwellings, the people lived with their domesticated animals—swine, goats, cows, ducks and fowl. The flu and cold viruses are believed to have crossed species from these domesticated animals to humans.
There have been various descriptions of flu symptoms recorded throughout history, however the first real epidemic was not recorded until the 9th century when the army of the French emperor Charlemagne was decimated by a virulent flu which had spread throughout Europe.
The worst recorded influenza outbreak occurred at the end of World War I when more than 20 million people died. In America, people were arrested for sneezing without using precautions to prevent the spread of virus (such as a handkerchief). In Australia a law was passed insisting protective masks be worn in public places. The famous ‘Asian flu pandemic in 1957 affected more than 80 million people worldwide. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the annual death rate in Australia directly from flu is fewer than 1,500 people. However deaths through related causes such as pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma greatly increase this figure.
Annually in Australia there are more than 5 million working days lost every year which are directly attributed to flu-type illnesses. Because viruses rapidly change their basic structure, our immune systems must continually adapt. Influenza vaccination has had varying success and may even be considered dangerous for people with compromised immune systems—everyone takes a risk when they are vaccinated. There are many safe and effective alternatives to vaccination which will keep people symptom free.
The symptoms of colds and/or flu vary from excess nasal mucous to sore throats (pharyngitis) and laryngitis, elevated temperatures, headaches, coughs, aches and pains in the limbs and joints, stiffness, tiredness, and others. There are secondary complications such as pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis, croup, encephalitis and meningitis.
Principally the symptoms of colds and flu are caused by the overloading of the lymphatic system through over-reactive and inappropriate immune responses. These inappropriate responses occur because the immune system may not be functioning efficiently during the time of initial infection, and it ramps into overdrive to identify, attach to, and eliminate the invader. There are several reasons why the immune system loses its efficiency, and if you address these, then you will not experience colds nor influenza to any serious degree. This is the focus of this article.
The rhino viruses are the major group producing colds. Nearly all the respiratory tract viruses can be the focus of inflammation and irritation of the nasopharyngeal mucosal cells. There’s over 100 types of rhino viruses, thus there is no effective vaccine that covers this group. Coronaviruses are the second most important cause of colds. There are six strains so far, and they infect both the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts of humans, other mammals and of some birds. The colds that coronaviruses produce are similar to those produced by rhino viruses but they also often cause accompanying gastroenteritis, and in some cases viral pneumonia. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndromes (SARS) are caused by coronaviruses.
Rhino viruses are readily inactivated by moderately acid environments (less than pH 5.3). This means they are unlikely to survive gastric acidity of the stomach when you eat meals that contain meats and fats and the pH of the stomach is lowered to digest the alkaline foods. Rhino viruses thus do not survive in the lower gut and do not spread through faecal contamination. They spread readily however, in droplets ejected from an infected nasopharynx, through talking, coughing, and especially through sneezing. The infectivity of droplets declines as they dry out. Infection can also be transferred by recent nasal secretions adhering to fingers.
Note: You may pick up rhino viruses but not know it, and for up to two weeks, a small colony may exist in incubation in your nasal cavity (or mouth). If your immune system drops in its efficiency over this time, the colony can then rapidly expand within 24 hours to a size that gives uncomfortable symptoms, which may then last for several days before the immune system controls the population. By using 3% hydrogen peroxide once a day during the flu season, as a mouth wash, you will reduce your likelihood that you will experience colds.
The clinical features of colds are the same irrespective of the infection being caused through rhinovirus or caronavirus infection. Most cold symptoms you experience are produced by the immune system causing inflammation of the nasal mucosa as it attempts to control the population expansion. Mild inflammation produces snuffles while more severe inflammation produces nasal secretion and swelling which may block sinus drainage as well as the airways, and cause pain. This may extend to the pharynx and create a dry uncomfortable throat but it will seldom be really painful. Immune induced fever is not common. Antibiotics are of no use against viruses and may be prescribed if secondary bacterial infection of the sinuses or middle ear is likely to occur.
Influenza has a short incubation period from 1 to 4 days after contact. The clinical features vary from a mild febrile inflammation and irritation of the nasopharyngeal mucosal cells, to life-threatening complications. Influenza is spread entirely by droplet inhalation. An individual with a growing population of influenza in their nasal passages can be infective even though they are not experiencing any symptoms. This can last up to 24 hours. Once the symptoms are causing discomfort, influenza can last for several days or more, and this depends on the immune health and the lifestyle of the individual.
The main symptoms of uncomplicated influenza—where intervention by a medical practitioner is not warranted are:
- Acute (sometimes) dramatic deterioration of health.
- Headache, backache, myalgia, shivering, malaise.
- Stuffy nose, dryness of the throat, huskiness of voice.
- Dry unproductive cough.
- Nausea and insomnia.
- The acute symptoms persist for several days and then gradually subside in uncomplicated cases.
- The longer the illness the longer may be the period of recovery to symptom-free health.
The clinical indicators—where your immune system is having difficulty controlling the infection are:
- Fever, increasing rapidly to 39-40 degrees celsius (99 to 102 degrees fahrenheit).
- Intense laryngeal and pharyngeal inflammation.
- The chest sounds are normal except in bronchitic individuals.
- The person is very ill, sometimes to the point of prostration.
- Mucous is yellow/green and sweet tasting.
The complications of influenza are:
- Primary pneumonia caused by bacteria, (tends to occur in people who are experiencing sadness and loss in their personal lives):
Indicated by coughing up clear to yellow mucous in mild infections—which can normally be controlled by the immune system within a few days of rest, natural medicines and therapy.
- Indicated by coughing up mucous that is more green than yellow, and tends to be sweet tasting—which is indicating that antibiotics are needed to assist immune activity to control the infection.
- Intense fever with acute confusion.
- Convulsions and coma mainly in children and the elderly.
- Acute bronchitis mostly with the elderly.
- Exacerbation of pre-existing diseases such as autoimmune diseases, cancer and some Type-1 allergies.
- Unexpected death in a few previously healthy young adults, and in a higher proportion of the elderly.
See Colds and Influenza: Part 2 to discover what you can do to stop/reduce colds and flus this winter.