By Behrooz - "Dr Bod" - Behbod MB ChB
Medical Doctor & Life Coach
Hitting the headlines, bird flu (avian influenza) poses a real threat not only to our health, but also our lives! Caused by species-specific influenza viruses, bird flu normally infects birds and occasionally pigs. However, the current outbreak originating in South East Asia in 2003 has been the largest and most severe in recorded history. The H5N1 subtype of the influenza virus has infected 194 people to date in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, China, Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Egypt, of whom 109 have died.
Pandemics occur when a new virus emerges that is able to spread worldwide, and have already proven their might in the last century. In 1918, the influenza subtype H1N1 spread globally in just four months, and killed an estimated 50 million people over the period of two years. There have also been two further pandemics in 1957 and 1968.
Human cases of 'bird flu' have so far been as a result of contact with faeces from infected poultry, and fortunately, there is no evidence as yet that H5N1 can pass between humans. However, there is a serious concern that if H5N1 develops the ability to pass from person to person, or if it combines with the human flu viruses, we then face the genuine misfortune of the next pandemic! With the increased prevalence of chronic degenerative diseases & autoimmunity, we must not forget the risk of such acute and potentially fatal infectious diseases.
Be aware of the symptoms in case you come in contact with or travel to a region known to have infected poultry. These are similar to the typical 'flu symptoms, including a high fever greater than 38ºC, headaches, muscle soreness, sore throat, sore / itchy red eyes, and respiratory difficulties such as a cough and / or shortness of breath.
"So what can I do?"
There is a great deal of time, money and effort being invested in scientific research in order to develop a safe and effective vaccine against 'bird flu'. In the meantime, and indeed even when a vaccine becomes available, here are simple yet effective ways in which you can enhance your defensive immune system, and reduce the risk of infection:
1. Effective stress management, e.g. meditation, yoga, prayer, or enlisting the help of a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist or life coach. AVOID poor 'stress-relief' excuses such as smoking, alcohol, over-eating and drugs.
2. Regular gentle aerobic exercise, e.g. walking 30 - 60minutes per day, three to five times a week;
3. Take a close look at your nutrition:
a. Are you eating sufficient fruit and vegetables, which contain the vital immune-enhancing bioflavonoids and polyphenols?
b. Consult a qualified nutritionist / nutritionally-orientated licensed physician to identify your personal "Metabolic Type", which gives you an accurate assessment as to the exact proportion of protein, carbohydrates, and fats YOUR individual body requires in order to function optimally.
c. Avoid all food & environmental intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies - some of these may be obvious, for example if you develop itching, bloating, breathlessness, or other symptoms following exposure to a certain food, animal, plant, drug, etc. However, I would strongly advise that you clearly identify these intolerances / allergies. There are many methods used to diagnose intolerances / allergies, including skin-prick tests, elimination diets, and RAST IgE blood tests. Again a nutritionist / nutritionally-orientated licensed physician can help you here.
d. Detoxification - try the following successful two-week diet - simply eat fresh fruit, vegetables (salads, steamed vegetables or soups), fruit and vegetable juices and herbal teas for 15 days, whilst avoiding meat, chicken, bread, dairy products etc. You can of course have grilled or steamed fish once or twice per week if you find difficulty. The aim is not so much as to lose weight, as it is to clean and detoxify, allowing the body to recuperate and revitalize. Feel free to eat as much as you like, but try to only eat when you are hungry. Ensure that you combine this diet with plenty of water - approximately 2 - 3 litres of good quality mineral water per day.
e. The following supplements may help when taken only under the supervision of your medical doctor:
i. Vitamin C - take 1gram, three times a day
ii. Zinc - 15mg daily
iii. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
vi. Cat's Claw
x. Beta 1-3-D Glucan
4. You can find further useful information on:
The World Health Organisation together with national ministries of health have issued the following preventive health measures when travelling to countries known to have infected poultry:
" Avoid all contact with poultry, including touching chicken and ducks which look healthy or are sick or dead.
" If you do come across a dead bird, phone your local / national helpline for the correct instructions on how to proceed. In the UK, you can call Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) via the helpline on 08459 33 55 77.
" Avoid places, such as poultry farms and bird markets, where live poultry are raised or kept.
" Avoid touching surfaces contaminated with poultry faeces or secretions.
" Wash your hands often, using soap and water (or waterless alcohol-based hand rubs where soap is not available and hands are not visibly soiled). As in other infectious illnesses, careful and frequent hand washing removes potentially infectious material from the skin and is one of the most important preventive practices to prevent disease transmission.
" Do not consume raw or undercooked poultry or poultry products, including dishes made with eggs and poultry blood. Influenza viruses are destroyed by heat.
" Remember that importing of live poultry or other birds and their products, from affected areas, is strictly prohibited.
" Before departure if you become sick with symptoms such as fever, difficulty in breathing, or cough or with any illness that requires prompt medical attention, consult a physician as soon as possible. It is advisable that you postpone your trip until you are free of symptoms, unless your travel is health-related.
After your return
" Monitor your health for 10 days
" If you become ill with fever and develop a cough or soar throat or difficulty in breathing, or if you develop any illness with fever during this 10-day period, seek medical advice. Before you visit a health-care setting, contact the Accidents and Emergency Department of the nearest hospital or call your doctor about:
1) Your symptoms
2) if you have had direct contact with poultry and
3) where you have travelled.
This way, your doctor will know that you have traveled to an area reporting avian influenza.
In the event that a flu pandemic does actually occur, the following are ways in which you can reduce the risk of infection:
" Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, using a tissue when possible;
" Dispose of dirty tissues promptly and carefully - bag and bin them;
" Avoid non-essential travel and large crowds whenever possible;
" Maintain good basic hygiene, for example washing your hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the spread of the virus from your hands to your face, or to other people;
" Clean hard surfaces (e.g. kitchen worktops, door handles) frequently, using a normal cleaning product;
" Make sure your children follow this advice.
If you do catch flu:
" Stay at home and rest;
" Take medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetemol to relieve the symptoms (following the instructions with the medicines). Please note: Children under 16 must not be given aspirin or ready made flu remedies containing aspirin;
" Drink plenty of fluids.
" Contact your doctor if your condition worsens. (Advice on symptoms and signs to watch for will be publicised when a pandemic starts.)
" Some people will be recommended treatment - further information will be given at the time.
Stay up-to-date with the current guidance by regularly checking the World Health Organization website, www.who.int. Next month, we'll be looking at ways of preventing cancer!
All the best,