Screw the Flu: Part 1


Oye, from the sewers of ennui, atrophy, and Law and Order reruns-y.

After 2.5 weeks of the flu and now bronchitis, I have lost all ability to give a schpit about anything, I sleep more than my dog, and I’m so stuck on the bottom rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy that I can’t even throw myself a pity party. And if you threw me one, I wouldn’t show up.

In fact, I almost went to the drugstore naked because 1. My skin hurt too much to wear clothing, and 2. Cold prison walls might finally break my fever without shredding open my liver at the same time.

So. What better time to talk about dietary supplements we all take to avoid this awfulness.

Let’s first check what you can do to not spend your days plotting your own death.

  1. Get the flu shot.

But my immune system is all natural! I don’t believe in vaccinations!

Well thanks for compromising the rest of our health while you’re at it. Because while you may believe strongly in your own immune system, people over 65, people who are immune-compromised, pregnant moms, infants, and people with chronic diseases, to name a few, through no fault of their own LikeABoss!don’t have the same bragging rights as you. So as you walk around boasting about your kick-ass immunoglobulins, you could be infecting others with your mess.  So, if you refuse to get the flu shot, please spend the winter sealed off from the rest of the world, thank you.

But the flu vaccine can give me the flu! 

Nope, it’s a dead virus. Some (SOME!! Not all!!) people get a low grade fever for a while just because ANY vaccine will result in a little preoccupation of your immune system as it starts racheting up your antigens. So, you MAY get a little response.

But 1. It’s not the flu. And 2. It’s not the flu!! Do what you can to save yourself and others. Unless you have strong religious reasons against vaccines, are allergic to eggs, or have some other important reason for not doing so…Get. The. Shot.

Will it REALLY prevent me from getting the flu? 

Maybe, but you have a better shot with the shot than without it. A recent (very stringent!) review found that if the vaccine is well-matched to the flu virus that “wins” for the season, it’s from 60-93% effective for the prevention of flu that requires medical attention for those under the age of 65. (The problem is, in the group over 65 there is an estimated 90% flu-related mortality, so these re the people we REALLY need to protect! There just wasn’t enough data on them to test the effectiveness for this meta-analysis.) Also, the pooled efficacy for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 was only 59%.

That doesn’t sound big…

It’s MUCH better than nothing. Plus, the CDC has reported higher efficacy of the vaccines, the above results are from a very stringent review article (better to report the conservative stat, I figure!)

What if the flu vaccine doesn’t match the circulating strain?

If the scientists don’t predict the winner strain that year, there is still some evidence that there is some cross-protection even if it’s a mis-match; however, the degree of cross-protection varies by the population you sample as well as the outcome (are you looking at symptom presence or hospitalization, for example).

How about Orange Juice and Vitamin C?!

I need to nap again. More on Vitamin C and dietary supplements in a couple of days. In the meantime, wash your hands a lot, and polish off your placebos before we uncover the truth behind them.


You sound super mean today.

Apologies from my future healthy self if I sound hostile. I merely await the day I can breathe again without hacking up bits of my spleen attached to mini-razor blades that rip roadways between my trachea and esophagus on the way out to decorate my keyboard. 

Marily O.

MS, RD, PhD,


Huge analysis of 31 studies covering 12 flu seasons!

Osterholm, M.T., Kelley, N.S., Sommer, A., Belongia, E.A. (2012). Efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccines: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lacent: Infectious Diseases, 12(1), 36-44.

An excellent research-based summary combating the myths of the live flu vaccine (administered intra-nasally).

Tosh, P.K., Boyce, T.G. Poland, G.A. (2008) Flu myths: Dispelling the myths associated with live attenuated influenza vaccine. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 83(1), 77-84.

More flu vaccine research cobbled together:

Fiore, A.E., Shay, D.K., Broder, K., Iskander, J.K., Uyeki, T.M., Mootrey, G., Bresee, J.S., & Cox, NJ. (2009). Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP),\1-52. Available at

Why you should get the flu shot, even if it ISN’T a good match.

Nichol, K.L. (2008). Efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccination. Vaccine, 26(4), D17-D22.


6 responses

  1. Been getting the flu shot on schedule every year even though I’m proud of my immune system. Never thought of infecting other people, but that could be a good idea in some cases. Love your writing style! Still great, even if you are sick and crabby. Think wellness!

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