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Why Doesn’t Everyone Exposed to the Virus Get the Flu?

Posted Sep 09 2011 10:03am

It’s that time of year again: The annual insistence on flu shots.

But wait! This year, there’s a twist!

In an unusual turn of events, this year’s flu shot is exactly the same as last year’s, but experts say you should get it again anyway.

The vaccine usually changes annually to combat the three primary forms of the ever-shifting influenza virus circulating that year. You need a new shot because the virus is different enough from its past incarnations that your immune system won’t recognize it.

This time, health officials say you need to get another shot because last year’s may have worn off.

And who is this “you”? The Centers for Disease Control says “everyone 6 months or older.” And flu shots are often especially stressed for those in “high risk groups”: the very young, the elderly and those with certain chronic health conditions. But while the shot is said to be effective for “young, healthy adults,” it’s

not as effective for very young children, the elderly, or people with compromised immune systems. One argument for vaccinating everyone every year is that it protects the people who are most vulnerable to flu, but also least likely to have a powerful response to the vaccine.

Yes, the flu can be a life-threatening disease, but let’s keep things in perspective. Only a small portion of the US population gets the flu in any given year: 5 to 20% , according to the CDC. Between 1976 and 2006, flu-related death estimates ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. By way of comparison ,

  • Deaths from heart disease: 616,067
  • From cancer: 562,875
  • From stroke: 135,952
  • From chronic respiratory diseases: 127,924
  • From accidents: 123,706
  • From Alzheimer’s: 74,632
  • From diabetes: 71,382

Notably, except for accidents, all of these conditions are largely preventable, not by vaccines but healthy, balanced lifestyle choices. And the flu can be prevented just as naturally.

No doubt, you know people who have stayed healthy through flu season without getting the shot. You probably also know people who have come down with the flu despite having been vaccinated. The simple fact is, it takes more than a virus to cause the flu. As the authors of a recent study in PLoS Genetics put it, “Exposure to influenza viruses is necessary, but not sufficient, for healthy human hosts to develop symptomatic illness.”

To see how the body responds when exposed to a flu virus, this research team

infected 17 healthy people with the flu virus and discovered that everyone who is exposed to the flu actually is affected by it, but their bodies just have a different way of reacting to it. Half of the study participants got sick; the other half didn’t notice a thing.

“Many people might conclude that if you are exposed to a virus and you don’t get sick, it’s because the virus didn’t stick or it was so weak, it just passed right through your system and your system didn’t notice. That’s not a correct notion,” says Alfred Hero, professor at the University of Michigan College of Engineering and author of the study….

He continues, “There is an active immune response which accounts for the resistance of certain people getting sick, and that response is just as active as the response we all know and hate, which is being sick with the sniffles, fever, coughing and sneezing. It’s just that the responses are different.”

Exactly. And this is entirely in line with what scientists such as biologist Antoine Béchamp and physiologist Claude Bernard established way back in the 19th century: In and of themselves, “germs” don’t cause disease. Rather, disease – and health – are dictated by the state of the body’s internal environment, the biological terrain. When it’s healthy, clean and well-ordered, a person resists disease with a robust immune response. When it’s not, the body can’t self-regulate as it evolved to do but still tries to recover from injury or the assault of toxins, be they natural (like a flu virus) or human-made (like chemical residues). We experience this failure as illness.

In either case, the body responds. There’s always a reaction. The question mark is what kind of reaction it will be. Illness is one response; fending off illness is another.

To learn more about the biological terrain and its role in illness and health, see Dr. Verigin’s articles here .

 

Images by gabrielsdana , mojoey and queen of subtle , via Flickr


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