The (Swine) Flu Season Is Upon Us!! (yawn)

Unless you are living in a cave in the furthest reaches of the Andes, you are probably aware that FLU SEASON IS COMING! The media has certainly gone into chicken little overdrive to keep you utterly misinformed about the flu and the allegedly proper precautions to take to avoid it.

This is what is known as FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) marketing. It was employed by IBM during the 60s and early 70s to maintain it's near-monopoly (at the time) over computer systems, which back then were the size of small garages and were fairly pricey. The technique is to scare you into buying the product by capitalizing on the customer's fears.

In IBM's case it was the fear executives had of switching to upstarts like Digital Equipment Corp., even though DEC's computers were faster, smaller, cheaper and better. In the case of mainstream medicine, the fear they inculcate is that you will die unless you buy their products. Now that's what I call purchase motivation!

The problem is, of course, is that the fear that they are selling is not backed by the facts, and we expect a little better ethics out of the health care system than we do out of a bunch of computer salesmen from New York.

Nonetheless, pharmaceutical companies have FUD marketing down to an art form that IBM marketeers back in the day could only have dreamed of. Today's vaccine makers have public health officials from the federal level to village health departments hustling their goods for them. (I wish chiropractic had an army of salesmen like that, it would reduce national healthcare costs dramatically.)

The fact of the matter is, epidemiological studies have repeatedly shown that flu vaccines historically have a very low success rate, and in fact, make little difference in the course of the disease. In short, they are failures.

Although it's a bit of a comparison between rotten apples and tasty, fresh oranges, I would like to mention that a follow-up study done of the people who attended my flu clinic a couple of years ago found that 97% of them remained flu-free for the season.

The marketing hand of the flu FUD machine was also visible in the renaming of the virus. Anybody else notice how the “swine flu” was suddenly renamed the “H1N1 virus”? The main objective here was to remove any similarities in the popular mind between the similarly hapless swine flu “epidemic” of the 70s and it's attendant lethal vaccine, and the current public health travesty.

Here's why I think the H1N1 virus epidemic is similarly overrated: A virus, to be successful, can do one of two things. It can be fairly lethal, or it can be relatively benign and spread easily. A lethal virus is unlikely to spread easily because it kills its hosts before they can infect a large number of people. A benign virus can spread easily, because it doesn't make you sick enough to put you down for the count, so you walk around infecting everybody around you.

The only virus in recent history to escape the Viral Dichotomy is HIV. It managed, through its transmission method and long latency, to be both lethal and readily transmissable.

And to those who are arguing that the swine flu is the overdue pandemic, I would point them back to HIV/AIDS. That virus did create a pandemic, though it still has problems being recognized as such because prejudice rendered its initial victims invisible and, in many countries, too many people found open and honest discussion of its transmission methods to be distasteful.

The swine flu virus hasn't managed to achieve anything near the success of HIV in either lethality or transmissibility. The swine flu virus has taken the latter course, of being easily spread, over the former course. So, even if you do get it, the consequences are unlikely to be more than a couple of days of inconvenience – and, remember, the vaccine is unlikely to prevent that from occurring.

So, here's my take-home on the H1N1 (the virus formerly known as Swine) epidemic: Meh.

My recommendations for this flu season are no different than any other:

  1. Wash your hands frequently. This, according to the Centers for Disease Control is the number one way of reducing your risk of catching the flu.

  2. Exercise. Regular exercise has been shown to enhance immune system function.

  3. Eat well. The proper diet has been shown to enhance immune system function. (If anybody wants a list of immune-enhancing foods, just send me an email.)

  4. Have two chinese herbal remedies on hand: Bi Yan Pian and Yin Chiao. The first is used in traditional chinese medicine for colds, and the latter is is used for the flu.

And the fifth piece of advice I have goes beyond flu prevention: Ignore the FUD. If you do not buy the fear, uncertainty and doubt that they are selling you, you won't need the attendant, frequently dangerous, medicines.