By Jim English
The five-month period ranging from October through February is commonly referred to as cold and flu season, and for good reason. With the end of summer, as people transition from the fresh air of the outdoors to the closed confines of offices, classrooms and homes, their chances of catching a cold, flu or other human-transmitted infection increase dramatically.
This year’s cold and flu season may be especially severe, according to global health officials who are warning of an impending flu pandemic. More troubling, many health experts say that current supplies of vaccines are far too low to control a major flu outbreak, let alone contain a full-fledged global pandemic. Writing in the July 31, 2005 Washington Post, reporter David Brown notes that, “The public, conditioned to believe in the power of modern medicine, has heard little of how poorly prepared the world is to confront a flu pandemic, which is an epidemic that strikes several continents simultaneously and infects a substantial portion of the population.” (1)
While global health experts and drug manufacturers admit they lack adequate medical tools for fighting a serious outbreak – and they won’t have them anytime soon – health experts in China are touting a unique anti-viral herbal formula that has already proven its ability to protect those at highest risk of infection in a health crisis – the front-line health care workers taking care of sick patients. The formula is a modern, pharmaceutical version of a traditional cold and flu formula that demonstrated its protective effects during the deadly 2003 viral outbreak in Hong Kong.
Unlike over-the-counter cold and flu medications that cover up symptoms or suppress the immune response after catching a cold or flu, the immuno-supportive herbal formula has been shown to be highly effective at preventing illness when taken at the first signs of an impending cold or flu. And if taken after one has already caught a cold or flu, the formula has been shown to relieve symptoms and enhancing the immune system for a more rapid recovery.
During the Hong Kong outbreak an alarming number of doctors and lab workers had become infected while tending to their patients. The crisis was further complicated by the fact that the virus was resistant to every known pharmaceutical agent, including the powerful anti-viral drug, ribavirin. In desperation emergency medical authorities rushed the new herbal formula to some 3,600 workers manning emergency clinics throughout Hong Kong. Immediately, infections among doctors, nurses and other hospital staff halted, even as the number of infected patients continued to rise.
Originally distributed to Hong Kong clinics as a granulated powder that was mixed with water to form a tea, this unique formula is now available in the United States in convenient, easy to swallow capsules. And while it has been shown effective at protecting health care workers facing extraordinary health situations, the formula was originally designed to address a far more common health problem – preventing the common cold and influenza.
Understanding the Common Cold
By definition a cold is a mild viral infection that affects the upper respiratory system, especially the nose, throat, and windpipe. Colds are caused by over 200 different strains of virus, and exposure to one strain doesn’t offer any protection against the others, making it almost impossible to devise an effective cold vaccine. In the spring, summer and fall the predominant cold bug is one of about 100 or more types of rhinovirus. In the late fall and winter the most colds are caused by parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial viruses. More than 600 million cases of the common cold occur in the United States each year (an average of 2.5 cases per person, per year).
People become infected after being exposed to a virus particle, either by inhaling an air-borne virus or by coming into contact with an infected surface. Typically a virus infects healthy cells by attaching to the walls of mucous membranes in the nose, eyes or mouth. Once the virus has attached itself, it penetrates the cell membrane and enters the cell. Cold viruses reproduce by reprogramming the cells, instructing the cellular machinery to begin manufacturing millions of new viral particles. Eventually the cell interior expands and becomes so stuffed with new viral copies that it literally explodes, releasing the new viruses back into the body where they are free to search for fresh cells to infect.
Once infected, cells lining the respiratory tract become inflamed and begin to produce mucus, leading to such typical symptoms as a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, coughing and general malaise. Fevers can soar to 102 degrees F (39 degrees C) in infants and children. In adults, fevers of this magnitude are more indicative of influenza. During this phase, an infected person is a highly infectious, mobile germ factory, releasing virus particles while moving about and spreading a trail of infection through the air and on any surface touched to continue the cycle of infection.
A typical cold lasts for approximately nine days, or for as long as it takes the infected person’s immune system to kill enough viruses to stop the symptoms. In short, the stronger your immune system, the faster you recover.
Influenza is a highly contagious and often deadly infection. The virus and accompanying complications, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, cause some 20,000 deaths in the United States each year. Hippocrates recorded the first written description of the “grippe” in 412 BC. In 1580 the disease became known as “influenza” after an observer noted that epidemics seemed to be under the “influence” of certain stars and constellations. Since 1580 some 31 major influenza pandemics have occurred, three in just the last century. The most devastating pandemic on record was the 1917 variant that killed an estimated 40 million people as it swept across the globe. In the United States, over 25 million people fell ill and 500,000 died from the outbreak.
Like a cold, influenza is an infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract caused by a specific virus of the genus Orthomyxovirus. In the United States flu season generally appears in late December and lasts through March. Infection occurs in generally the same manner as with colds, though inhalation of air-borne viral particles is believed to be the primary vector. Infection rates tend to be highest among school-age children, due in part to their lack of immunity from previous exposure to related strains of the virus.
Researchers have discovered that the most deadly flu pandemics tend to arise when animal viruses mutated to form new strains capable of infecting human hosts. The most deadly of these animal-origin pandemics are the swine flu of 1918, and two strains of avian flu that appeared in 1957 (Asian flu) and 1968 (Hong Kong flu).
The symptoms caused by influenza are similar to, but more severe, than those of the common cold, ranging from virtually no symptoms (asymptomatic) to fatal. Note that while many infected individuals do not experience any symptoms at all, they remain highly infectious, capable of spreading the virus to those around them. When symptoms do appear, they tend to do so abruptly, starting with a high fever (103 degrees F) in adults, and possibly higher in children. Following the onset of fever many people will experience chills, muscle aches (myalgia), runny nose, throbbing headache, fatigue, sore throat, hoarseness and a dry cough. It is not uncommon to experience diarrhea and stomach upset (nausea), and even light-headedness and disorientation. Flu symptoms usually last for three to seven days, and may be followed by a period of general weakness and depression.
Note that while flu symptoms tend to be more severe in the elderly and very young, in general most cases don’t require hospitalization unless complicated by secondary bacterial infection (pneumonia). A persistent fever or worsening of symptoms in those 50 years or older may indicate one of three types of the pneumonia that frequently accompany influenza. The first is sudden, severe, often fatal and is present from onset; the second, less severe, appears a few days after onset; and the third, also less severe, appears after apparent recovery. Treatment with antibiotics may be required to prevent or treat pneumonia.
Warnings of a “doomsday” virus sweeping the world have been heightened by the recent spread of a lethal strain of avian flu. After first being detected in wild birds in Asia, avian flu has recently passed into Siberia and is now moving into Europe. So far the human death toll from avian flu has been low, and confined to people in close contact with infected birds. But a number of scientists are warning of a major pandemic if the new virus mutates into a form capable of being transmitted between humans.
Treating Colds and Flu
The best treatment for colds and flu is not to become sick in the first place. Unfortunately, this approach is not very reliable, and modern medicine doesn’t have much to offer for treating the common cold or influenza. Thankfully most people recover on their own if given plenty of rest and fluids. In addition to hot chicken soup, over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medicines may offer some relief and comfort. Aspirin may help in controlling fevers, but should be avoided due to the fact that it actually increases viral shedding, making the infected patient more contagious to others. Additionally, aspirin is strongly associated with Reyes syndrome and should never be given to children. Consider alternatives such as acetaminophen.
Catching the flu does offer temporary immunity against that specific strain of the virus. Unfortunately this does not offer protection against other strains of flu. Vaccines have been developed that have been claimed to be 70 to 90 percent effective for at least six months against either A or B types. Many doctors recommend flu vaccines for older patients, especially those with cardiac or respiratory diseases, and pregnant women. Recently a number of problems with the makeup and production of vaccines, particularly flu vaccines, have led some health professionals to question the usefulness of immunization. Many health care professionals fear that flu vaccines may actually weaken the immune system and make patients actually more susceptible to catching the virus, and in fact there are numerous reports of people reporting that the only time they catch the flu is after they receiving a flu shot. Other medical experts are concerned about the presence of mercury used as a preservative in many flu vaccines. Mercury is a deadly poison that presents dangerous side effects, including nerve damage that may be related to Alzheimer’s disease.
The vaccine debate has been further confounded by problems in manufacturing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now admits that the flu vaccine for 2003-2004 had “no or low effectiveness” against influenza or influenza-like illness. In fact, depending on how one looks at the data, the vaccine protected from zero percent to 14 percent of those receiving the vaccine. These and other concerns, such as recent recalls of contaminated vaccines, are causing many alternative physicians to cautioning against receiving immunizations of any kind.
Natural Anti-Viral Solution for Colds and Flu
The best defense against a cold or flu is to maintain a healthy immune system to protect against infection and assist in a quicker and more complete recovery if infected. And just as stress, lack of sleep and poor nutrition impair the immune system, a number of natural substances are capable of enhancing and boosting the immune system. Traditional Chinese medicine has long recognized the power of herbs to prevent and treat colds and influenza, and numerous formulas have been developed over the last 2,000 years. While largely the result of trial and error, a handful of cold and flu formulas have survived and are now the focus of intense scrutiny at leading teaching hospitals and pharmaceutical research institutes throughout China. As a result of this intense burst of activity, a number of traditional formulas have been significantly improved by the introduction of modern scientific testing, processing and clinical evaluation procedures, leading to a revolution in the practice of Chinese medicine.
One of the leading experts of modern Chinese medicine is Dr. Dexin Yan, inventor of Vital Celland numerous other formulas. In 1990 Dr. Yan launched an intensive study of the effects of three traditional cold and flu formulas. The first, Yin Chiao, was shown to be effective for stopping a cold if taken at the first sign of an infection. The second formula, Gan Mao Ling, was found to significantly reduce the duration of a cold if taken after infection had set in. The last formula, Zhong Gan Ling, turned out to be extremely effective for treating the flu, especially when present with a high fever.
Dr. Yan combined the best elements of all three formulas. Additionally, he increased the amount of three important medicinal herbs, Ilex, Isatis, and Forsythia that new research has shown exert powerful, anti-viral actions. Dr. Yan then went to the next step, adding elements from a fourth formula, Pe Min Kan Wan, which acts as an effective nasal decongestant,
After extensive testing and clinical evaluation to determine the precise percentage of each herbal ingredient, Dr. Yan finally arrived at a single formula that stops colds or flu when taken at the first sign, and shortens a cold or flu if taken after infection has already started. Best of all, reports from Dr. Yan’s patients revealed that the formula was especially effective at alleviating such common symptoms such as nasal congestion, headaches and stuffy head symptoms, without the side effects of over-the-counter medications.
Clinical Efficacy of Herbal Cold and Flu Formula
After reviewing the records of hundreds of clients reporting positive outcomes with Dr. Yan’s patients a team of researchers at the Shanghai Center for Modern Traditional Chinese Medicine launched a clinical trial to compare their immuno-supportive herbal formula with ribavirin (Rebetol), a powerful broad-spectrum, antiviral drug that has been the drug of choice in Asia and Europe for treating influenza and related viral illnesses for the last 20 years.
The researchers restricted the study to hospitalized patients with severe flu symptoms, including average body temperatures of at least 103 degrees F. Over the course of the study seventy-six patients were admitted, of which 30 were diagnosed with influenza, 32 with parainfluenza, 5 with adenovirus, and 6 with respiratory syncytial virus.
39 patients (21 male, 18 female, ages 15 to 48 years) were treated with Dr. Yan’s immuno-supportive herbal formula. A second group consisting of 37 patients (ages 17 to 53 years) was treated with ribavirin. From the very start of the trial the researchers noticed a remarkable difference between the two groups: patients receiving Dr. Yan’s immuno-supportive formula showed a dramatic reduction in fevers, beginning as soon as two hours after treatment, and no later than 6 hours after receiving their first dose. By contrast, patients receiving ribavirin took at least 6 hours to show any sign of lessening, and up to 18 hours in many patients – at least three times longer than with the herbal formula.
A comparison in the difference in the number of hours before Dr. Yan’s immuno-supportive herbal formula and ribavirin began to effect a reduction in other symptom is presented in the table below.