Today’s print media highlighted the possible shortage of swine flu vaccine (when it eventually becomes available). The Director-General of WHO, Dr Margaret Chan was even reported to have accused Western nations of hoarding the vaccine and appealed to the big pharmas to divert just 10% of the supplies to developing countries so as not to deprive the less fortunate.
There is also a sense of panic developing as the number of deaths throughout the world rise to 700 (see here). Currently, the only form of possible cure, apart from the vaccine, is by taking Tamiflu or Relenza capsules by mouth. But they don’t come cheap at USD 60 per course. Besides, supplies are scarce and they need to be taken within 48 hours of the onset of the symptoms to be effective.
So where does that leave most of us, especially those who don’t like popping pills?
A comforting fact is that 95% of those who contracted swine-flu recover from it without any complications – this is a reassuring fact that is not emphasized by media hype. Apart from this consolation, an important principle is that the virus attacks those with diminished immunity. That explains why many of those that succumbed are either elderly, the very young, pregnant women, sufferers of chronic disease or thse taking steroids.
How can one increase one’s immunity?
- Leading a healthy lifestyle. Hate to repeat it, but regular exercise, no smoking, enough sleep and reducing stress are indispensable pillars.
- Hygienic measures. Perhaps the most important preventive measure is washing the hands. You need to cough and sneeze safely too, because the tiny droplets expelled can contain the virus.
- Hydration. Drinking water often and adequately (about 2 litres daily) is an important measure too.
- Supplements to enhance the immune system. Zinc, selenium and ginseng have these properties.
- Antioxidants. No need to buy expensive over-the-counter stuff. Taking them naturally is even better – berries,green tea, dark chocolate, coffee and red wine all have antioxidants.
- Staying away from crowded places. This comes in last in my book as many of us just can’t avoid this, especially public commuters!
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As mentioned previously , 3 postings ago here, where there is a threat there’s opportunity! It didn’t take too long after WHO declared a pandemic of the H1N1 (swine flu) virus that a flood of self-proclaimed remedies came onto the internet, enticing consumers to part with their money in return for dubious cures.
The US FDA were quick to respond to these quack merchants by publishing a blacklist of internet sites. Many of these sites have since either closed down or retreated into “under construction” modes.
Not to be outdone, these marketeers have now resorted to fake Tamiflu sales over the Internet, so much so, scam emails on these fake Tamiflu have exceeded that for Viagra! Sir Liam Donaldson, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, told the BBC that the whole field of counterfeit drugs is becoming a much bigger problem, with fake Tamiflu substituted with sugar and even coumadin (a blood thinner originally used to kill rats).
Even if you managed to get the genuine product, which sells as a course of 10 capsules for about USD 6 each, Tamiflu has to be taken correctly (within 48 hours of the flu symptoms) to be effective. And if the flu persists, chances are you’ve got H1N1 flu because Tamiflu & Relenza (the other ‘antidote’) do not always knock off this virus!
And the flu vaccines? The ones available in the market are only effective against the previous flu strains over the last few years, but not against swine flu. The swine flu vaccine will only be available end-August but it is doubtful whether there will be enough to go around should the containment phase now being undertaken by most countries moves towards the treatment phase as the pandemic spreads, as it is widely expected to.
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The current H1N1Virus epidemic illustrates how expensive healthcare can become. Apart from the increased manpower costs in conducting surveillance checks globally, the individual senses some of the impact as well – take the cost of a course of Tamiflu, one of two antiviral drugs that can mitigate influenza in general. At nearly US$6 a capsule, the complete course of 10 is going to create quite a dent in your pocket if you’re uninsured.
China has now come up with an affirmative program to reduce healthcare costs – the use of traditional medicines, which in general costs much less than Western medicine.
The State Council, the country’s Cabinet, pledged in a circular Thursday to enable every community and village health service center, at the lowest level of the program, to provide traditional medicine service for citizens.It ordered local governments at county level or higher to include traditional medicine hospitals in their health service networks. County hospitals were also encouraged to set up traditional medicine departments.
Traditional Chinese medicine has its unique theories and practices in areas such as herbal medicines, acupuncture, massage and dietary therapy, which is independent from Western medicine.
For some time, traditional Chinese medicine was sidelined as many of its theories could not be explained by modern medicine but it recently became popular among Chinese as an alternative way to keep fit. Indeed, acupuncture has found acceptability in many Western medicine circles nowadays. Costs for acupuncture treatment for chronic back-ache is now reimbursible by most private insurance companies in the US.
One important problem that may create difficulty in promulgating traditional medicine is the fact that a lot of valuable knowledge was not passed from the older generation to the younger due to lack of documentation and some important therapies have been lost.According to the circular, the government plans to register ancient medical books, develop a catalog and set up a digital data base for them. It will also support research and publishing of these books.
Its about time more countries sit up, take notice and develop their own initiatives to develop alternative and complementary medicine strategies – the cost-savings can be tremendous.
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The Chinese character for ‘crisis’ is a hybrid for ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. This applies as well for the current H1N1 influenza near-pandemic, formerly known as Swine Flu.
Already, websites and emails are sprouting extolling the virtues of products that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. These fraudulent sites have escalated in intensity recently, enough for the US Food and Drug Administration FDA to issue a warning on fraudulent influenza products here.
Here’s a quick rundown on on some myths about the current H1N1 flu infection:
1. There are currently no flu vaccinations that can prevent an attack by the H1N1 virus. The current stockpile was derived from the flu epidemic a few years ago caused by the H3N1 and related viruses, so they will not be effective here.
2. The two antiviral drugs approved by the FDA for treatment and prophylaxis of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus are Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) and Relenza (zanamivir). However, health experts caution against using them routinely for several reasons: the emergence of resistant strains when used in mild flu infections, its ineffectiveness when given more than 48 hours after the onset of flu, the presence of side-effects (in particular,psychiatric disturbances, heart and lung disorders and deaths in children).
3. Should masks be used? Certainly not the ordinary ones as they do not filter small particles that carry the culprit viruses. You need to get the N95 respirators which block off 95% (hence the name) of small particles which carry the viruses. These are expensive and are for single-use only.
Said the Federal Trade Commissioner, Jon Liebowitz, “The last thing any consumer needs right now is to be conned by someone selling fraudulent flu remedies”.
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Economists will give a wry smile on seeing the above title, as its a well-known mantra that the shape of the US economy determines that of the whole world! Yet, the swine flu outbreak in Mexico seems to affect the world’s business scene just as well..
One of the first things that accompany news of dangerous flu viruses is an economic evaluation of the effects of a pandemic. In a recent article, Reuters pointed out in 2008 that the IMF said a flu pandemic could cost $3 trillion and cause a 5% drop in global GDP. In other words, it would almost certainly turn the current deep recession into a worldwide depression, says Newsweek.
In Hong Kong, where the government machinery is well-versed in handling potential epidemics (after the SARS outbreak in 2003), there are 1,400 empty beds ready to take in isolation cases as and when necessary. Despite this, the Hang Seng Index fell 2.7% yesterday – worse hit being airline shares (Cathay Pacific dropped 8%, China Airlines 13%).
However, behind every dark cloud, there is a silver lining – rubber glove-makers are rubbing their gloved hands in glee. The makers of the only two antiviral drugs approved for the treatment of influenza viruses in general –Tamiflu (Roche) and Relenza (GlaxoSmithKline)-have seen their stocks climb on share markets.