Viral infections - avoid them and treat them aggressively

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Obviously one cannot avoid all viruses, but do your best! There tends to be a mini-epidemic of colds at the start of every school term as every virus acquired is shared around! Don’t travel to exotic locations and risk picking up some horrible bug. Vaccinations can certainly trigger flares of CFS – some are probably essential and less likely to cause CFS such as tetanus and oral polio. Most other vaccinations have the potential to flare CFS.

My view is that the nutritional approach is so effective at protecting against viral infection that vaccination against seasonal 'flu is not necessary. Vaccination has the potential to trigger other problems such as CFS.

The best defence against viral infections is a healthy body and healthy immune system. Indeed I believe that if you have a perfect immune system you should never get a cold. Getting a cold is a symptom of a poorly functioning immune system.

Immune system erosion

I am further concerned by the possible erosion of the immune system by excessive use of hygiene, antibiotics, vaccinations and exposure to toxic chemicals such as pesticides. See Hygiene hypothesis - good bugs and bad bugs. There is a place for antibiotics and vaccinations but in my opinion they are overused. Studies have indicated that the rising incidence of asthma was due to over-prescribing of antibiotics in early life - see Antibiotic Exposure by 6 Months and Asthma and Allergy at 6 Years: Findings in a Cohort of 1,401 US Children . Excessive hygiene (too many baths, hand washing, use of disinfectants etc) is also associated with increased risk of allergy. Recurrent infections are a real problem for some CFS patients who simply go from one illness to the next without remission. Furthermore, viruses often cause a mild immuno-suppression which then opens the door for other infections to get in – not an easy situation! Actually immune suppression I suspect is a very common problem. The immune system is particularly susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies and toxic stress. Clinically this manifests as susceptibility to viral infections. Indeed if the immune system was working perfectly then an upper respiratory tract infection at worst should cause very minor symptoms for just a day or two. We all know of people who never catch a cold – these are the people with perfectly functioning immune systems. This should not be confused with CFS patients who do not get the local symptoms required to blast the virus out – ie acute rhinitis (runny nose) but just get a flare of all their CFS symptoms. In this event the immune system is so poor it cannot mount a local acute response to physically flush out the virus.

What to do

  • Take vitamin D. A recent paper from the Lancet asked the question why we tend to see more coughs colds and ’flu in the Winter compared to the Summer. The answer is vitamin D – the only significant source is sunshine and vit D is highly protective against infections of all sorts. My advice is we should take at least 2,000iu daily on days where we get less than 20 minutes of good sunshine directly on our skins. See Epidemic influenza and vitamin D
  • Allow inflammation. The body reacts against viruses with inflammation and the result of inflammation is either directly toxic to the virus, or helps to physically expel virus from the body. For example, viruses are very temperature sensitive – for the body to run a fever is a good thing – fever kills viruses (and bacteria). A good snotty nose helps to wash out virus from the nose and a hacking cough blasts the bugs from the lungs. Symptoms may be uncomfortable but should be welcomed as an appropriate way to get rid of virus. This is why I hate to see symptom-suppressing cold remedies such as paracetamol, antihistamines, alcohol, decongestants, cough mixtures which interfere with the body’s natural mechanisms of killing and expelling virus. SO DO NOT SUPPRESS SYMPTOMS – THEY ARE NATURE’S WAY OF EXPELLING INFECTIONS.
  • Run a temperature – there is no doubt that people who tend to run cold all the time are more prone to picking up infections and indeed this is the basis of the age old adage to wrap up well in cold weather or you will catch a chill. It would be interesting to measure your basal temperature. Low temperature can be indicative of borderline hypothyroidism and this can certainly present with recurrent infections. Children are very good at running a temperature at the first sign of virus, but adults less good. At one stage Boots used to market a product called rhinotherm which blasted hot air into the nose – the idea is that you inhaled this at the first sign of a cold and for some people it got rid of the virus. I know some patients can get rid of a virus by giving themselves a temperature – i.e. using a hot bath to get themselves as hot as possible and then wrapping up in blankets with a hot water bottle to make themselves sweat it out. I know some athletes deliberately go running in order to induce a temperature, sweat out a virus, but I have to say this is extremely risky and not something I would recommend as it could trigger a flare of CFS!
The only exception to using paracetamol for fevers is in some children who tend to get fits if their temperature goes up too high. In this event paracetamol and tepid (have you ever had a fever and cold water splashed on you?) sponging should be used to prevent this happening. It is therefore doubly important in these children that micronutrients are used to improve the immune response.
  • Rest and warmth sound like common sense but are ignored by many. Rest allows the immune system to work unhampered whilst warmth kills bugs. Some people find a hot bath or a sauna produces an artificial fever and helps get rid of infection. So much CFS is triggered by the workaholic who continues to strive even when they are ill.
  • Take high dose vitamin C. Vitamin C kills all bacteria and viruses, but is remarkably non-toxic to human cells! Firstly use the neutral form of vitamin C (magnesium ascorbate – does not dissolve tooth enamel), open a capsule and tip into the mouth. It quickly dissolves in saliva. Hold in the mouth for as long as you can – this gets rid of all microbes in the mouth including dental plaque. Secondly take large doses of vitamin C (as ascorbic acid – acidifies the stomach and kills microbes there) dissolved in water or fruit juice. I suggest 10 grams initially and then more or less according to symptoms. Aim to cause diarrhoea – this is called taking vitamin C to bowel tolerance. One’s bowel tolerance increases with illness as more vitamin C is needed.

[Monitoring blood sugar and Vitamin C
Bear in mind that the DIY home tests for blood sugar rely on a test that employs glucose oxidase. Vitamin C cross-reacts – so if you are taking vitamin C to bowel tolerance your blood will be saturated with vitamin C and this may give false highs. My experience is that this may be 2-3mmols/l higher than the actual blood glucose. That is to say an apparent reading of 7-8mols/l equates to a real reading of 4-5mmol of glucose.]

  • Zinc drops 10mgs four times daily into the mouth kills microbes. Zinc is probably the most common deficiency resulting in poor immunity. We stock zinc and vitamin C lozenges which are often helpful -
  • Check for hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid). Most bacteria and viruses get into our bodies either by inhaling them or swallowing them. One interesting exception is measles virus which gets in through the conjunctivae of the eye. Those inhaled are caught in the mucous which lines the respiratory tract, are swept up and swallowed. All end up in the stomach where they should be killed by stomach acid. However, where there is low stomach acid ie HYPOCHLORHYDRIA the bugs will survive to cause infection. When I test for hypochlorhydria in CFS I often find it – ie I suspect this is a risk factor for infections and therefore CFS.
  • Consider a detox regime. There is no doubt that chemicals have immuno-suppressive effects – they also depress the bone marrow and this could explain borderline anaemia and low white cell counts. I often do fat biopsies on patients and invariably find raised levels of pesticides or volatile organic compounds – indeed I have yet to see a normal result – and all these chemicals cause immune suppression. Increasingly I am coming to the view that we should all do detox regimes. First of all we should avoid chemicals as much as we possibly can, secondly take good micronutrients to improve the liver detoxification of chemicals and thirdly sweating regimes. Obviously the most physiological sweating regime is to take exercise, but impossible in CFS patients. Far infra red saunas are effective in reducing chemical loads, as demonstrated by doing fat biopsies before and after sweating regimes.
  • Think allergy – allergy to dairy products often presents with recurrent infections, especially tonsillitis. Sometimes allergy symptoms can present with symptoms of an acute cold – ie rhinitis and cough.
  • Avoid female sex hormones, which are immunosuppressive and increase susceptibility to viral infections

There are some very useful antiviral and herbal preparations on the market such as Zovirax, propolis 600mgs three times daily, lime tea etc. but it is really a case of trying as many things as you can until you find a combination that suits you.

So the basic principles are:

  • Avoid where reasonably possible.
  • Rest, keep warm.
  • Get your micronutrient status as good as possible. Think vitamin D, zinc and C.
  • Do not symptom suppress! Allow a temperature. Aggressively attack viruses at the first symptom with heat, high dose vitamin C as ascorbic acid (swallowed) and magnesium ascorbate (dissolved in mouth) or whichever herbal preparations you find suit you.
  • Check for hypochlorhydria
  • Detoxify as much as possible – including sweating regimes
  • Identify any allergies you may have – think dairy
  • Correct thyroid hormone abnormalities – for this you need to test a free T4 a T3 and a TSH - see Thyroid profile: free T3, free T4 and TSH

If the symptoms of a virus do not improve after 3-4 days, then it is possible that a secondary bacterial infection has developed. A healthy body and immune system can deal with most bacterial infections, but call for professional help for less than healthy people such as the very young, old, smokers, diabetics, heart failures, people with a history of chest infections, etc.

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