B M Hegde on flu

I was working in Ipswich in a cardiothoracic centre during the 1968-69 ‘Flu epidemic. During the Xmas week end of 1968 I had to be on call from Friday through Monday morning as most of my colleagues were on leave. I had to certify more than 50 deaths, mostly in the geriatric age group. Elderly patients with cardiac and respiratory co-morbidities used to come down with ‘Flu and die within hours of admission.

Surprisingly, we had some young teenagers who died suddenly, mostly at home. One of the reasons given at that time was the sudden blocking of the trachea with dried mucus encrustations from the upper respiratory tract when they suddenly sit up in bed in the morning having slept all night in a heated room. The other speculation was acute viral myocarditis. Most of them  died at home. It might be prudent to use a humidifier if a ‘Flu patient has to sleep in a heated room even today. We did not use antiviral drugs then! We got vaccinated in February, long after the ‘Flu died down naturally.

The present scare looks out of proportion to the danger. This virus seems to be an enigma. It has bird, swine, and human genes-all in one. Very difficult to assess its origin. Could it be from a research laboratory which has accidentally leaked out?

One glaring point in the epidemiology is the relatively milder US disease as compared to Mexico. I have an explanation. The main culprit in this drama is the human immune system which is all but forgotten in our discussions. Fatal cases are the ones that have either a weak immune system that gets overwhelmed to react to this virus and in the bargain produces so many rogue antibodies and chemicals that could destroy the patients’ lungs, so called viral pneumonia, or depressed immune system due to malnutrition and poverty.

The former is akin to gram-negative septicaemia causing DIC.  It is possible that the US patients had stronger immune systems as compared to the Mexicans! While our thrust must be to help the public to boost their immune systems during this kind of epidemics, the panic that is being produced by the media would only depress their immune systems due to fear! While the health authorities should do all that is in their power to contain the spread they should take care not to scare the public unnecessarily.

The ‘Flu season is almost over in the Northern Hemisphere. It might move to the Southern side, though. There is no vaccine available now. Anti-viral drugs are of questionable efficacy with some dangerous side effects like the ones reported in Japan. Our best bet is to let the public know how they could boost their immune systems with natural immune boosters:

  • Good exercise daily.
  • Plenty of fruits and vegetable diet. Avoid meat if possible.
  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Adequate sleep at night.
  • Avoiding undue panic.
  • Breathing exercises of Yoga to get better tissue oxygenation.
  • Mother’s milk gives the baby robust immune system.
  • Smoking and alcohol could be avoided during the epidemic.
  • Avoid crowded places and unnecessary travel to reduce the viral load.
  • Frequent hand washing and using a face mask might help.

B M Hegde is editor-in-chief, The Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes; chairman, State Health Society’s Expert Committee, Govt. of Bihar, Patna; former professor of cardiology, The Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London; affiliate professor of human health, Northern Colorado University; retd. vice chancellor, Manipal University, “Manjunath” Pais Hills, Bejai, Mangalore, India.