When The Epidemic Strikes, Will You Be Ready?
One evening in 1918, four women Gloria, Stephanie, Julie and Janet were enjoying a game of bridge. They played until eleven o'clock and then went to their separate homes. The next morning, Stephanie awoke at her normal time and went about her usual tasks. By afternoon, she learned that Gloria, Julie and Janet had all died overnight. The influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 has been cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. Somewhere between 20 and 40 million people died worldwide. Influenza infected an estimated 28% of Americans and killed 675,000. If the pandemic were to occur at this proportion today, over 1.4 million people in the US would die.
The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is so confident another such pandemic of Influenza will occur, that they have established worldwide pandemic contingency response protocols. In 1918, the Influenza virus was an unknown organism. The only allopathic treatment available was aspirin. Today, although a few drugs have been developed for influenza, their overall efficacy is low and their side effects are high. The mortality rate of influenza in 1918 was 2.5 - 5% worldwide. But homeopathic physicians at that time were reporting mortality rates one tenth of that for thousands of patients they were treating. Homeopathic treatment dramatically reduced the occurrence of pneumonia and the overall mortality rate during the epidemic. If a worldwide pandemic were to occur today, homeopathy may again prove to be a Godsend.
Influenza is an epidemic respiratory disease that cycles around the globe in yearly patterns. Each year the virus changes its structure, so that immunity acquired during a previous infection is not protective the following years. Many people wrongly assume that the typical cold or stomach virus that lasts 4 or 5 days is the flu. Typical influenza patients have high fevers and chills, severe muscle aches of the back and face, headache, overwhelming fatigue and mild cough. Symptoms tend to be severe and can last for two weeks. Some of these patients will go on to develop a pneumonia which can be fatal.
Vaccination has been recommended for patients with chronic respiratory or cardiac disease, patients with immunodeficiency and individuals over the age of 65. A severe shortage of influenza vaccine may occur this year, due to problems with manufacturing. The vaccine will not be available to most people until late in the season, if at all. Additionally, it is predicted that this year may bring a more severe strain of influenza than usual. Homeopathic treatment, which has proved itself effective in even the most severe epidemic of all time, could be of tremendous benefit in this upcoming flu season.
During an epidemic, selection of homeopathic remedies is slightly different than the usual approach to treating acute disease. While one should still choose an appropriate remedy based on the symptoms of each individual patient, one or two remedies will treat almost all of the patients during a flu season. You can actually use characteristic symptoms shared from person to person as the basis of a common prescription during the epidemic: a so called "genus epidemicus".
Two years ago the flu was mostly a "neurologic" type influenza. Patients were coming in with complaints of a gradual onset of the chills, especially in the back. The symptoms usually began after a short spell of warm weather and the whole season of the flu was more toward spring. Many had severe dizziness and nausea, especially after any movement. Fever was very mild and there were no sweats. Body aches were present for some, but a minor feature. Fatigue and severe muscle weakness were perhaps the strongest features. Cough, congestion and headache were not big symptoms. By looking for the symptoms that were common to the group, the picture fits remedy Gelsemium sempervirens. That year, Gelsemium sempervirens was quite helpful to almost all cases in my office, and is a frequently used remedy for influenza.
Last year, the cases of influenza were completely different. Patients presented in two distinct phases. One group became ill early in November and a second group in March. The first group had a sudden onset of high fevers that are intermittent and especially at night. The biggest complaint is severe restlessness especially 1-2 AM. They had mild diarrhea and nausea. A generalized headache was common, and all had weakness (a very common symptom in almost all cases of influenza). By the third day, profuse sweating developed. Some had mouth ulcers and sore throat. All have developed a deep and racking cough that was initially dry, but became progressively wet. The cough came from the chest, but no phlegm was produced. The restlessness persisted, and the fatigue eventually led into a confused and slightly disoriented state. The primary remedy for this initial group was Mercurius vivus. Patients who respond to Mercurius vivus frequently have an element of foulness to their discharges. The phlegm and perspiration can be malodorous, and many times they complain of a metallic taste in the mouth.
A lesser number of individuals became ill during the March timeframe. These patients were considerably more ill, but tended to recover more quickly. Baptisia tinctoria was useful for those who developed high fever associated with progressive confusion. The confusion of mind became the dominant symptom. A state of indifference to everything could develop. Nasal discharges were foul, but scant. Headache and pain with movement of the eyes was also prominent. With Baptisia tinctoria, there tends to be some infected, foul quality to the symptoms.
Aconitum napellus is a remedy to think of at the onset of influenza. Symptoms usually begin with a bang. A very high spiking fever followed abruptly by shaking chills is characteristic. The person is usually restless and anxious. They may appear to be flushed and craving fresh air despite their chilliness. Sharp pains in the face, chest or bones may occur as well. The onset of influenza in these individuals is especially common during dry, cold and windy weather.
Bryonia Alba is a strong choice for the treatment of influenza. In these cases, the onset is generally slow. They tend to be thirsty and dry-as if someone had siphoned all the moisture out of their body. Aches in the joints, dry cough that has stitching pain, severe headache that is worse for movement of the head and dry fevers predominate. Their eyes will hurt with movement. They may be quite irritable and inpatient, feeling the illness is so inconvenient.
Rhus Toxicodendron is useful for influenza that begins after a period of unusual physical exertion. The person may relate that they were out chopping wood on a wet and chilly day, and then the next day they started with fever and chills, severe muscle and back aches, and loss of the voice. Stiffness, especially in the morning, will be a strong symptom. Restlessness, especially at night, may also be present.
Eupatorium Perfoliatum is an unusual, but frequently dramatic treatment for influenza. This person will describe a severe pain in the bones - as if someone is scraping the muscles from the bones or actually breaking the bones. They tend to have pain with movement of the eyes like Bryonia Alba patients, but tend to have increased thirst.
Influenza is a severe, acute illness that can lead rapidly to life threatening complications. Elderly people and those with underlying chronic illness are most at risk for complications. Qualified physicians must manage these patients. However, Western medical treatments are frequently ineffective for influenza. And in my experience, homeopathic remedies can give rapid and complete resolution of symptoms. I hope that you will feel free to pursue homeopathy for influenza, while remembering to utilize the tools of western medicine as appropriate. When the next influenza pandemic disables 20% of the world population, the more people with experience using homeopathic remedies, the better off we will all be.