Rim country residents have been using up sick days left and right as they try to fend off the "creeping crud."
"We've seen an increase in the number of patients we've examined," said Dr. Robert Cuthbertson, "but I don't think it's the normal flu. This seems to be more of a tracheobronchitis."
The primary symptom to this "crud," Cuthbertson said, is a lingering cough that he said is responding well to antibiotics.
"Flu doesn't respond to antibiotics," he said. "People with the flu generally ache all over and have a high fever. I've not labeled anyone with the flu yet."
School nurse Linda Swartwood said the number of sick students at Rim Country Middle School is up slightly, but that's to be expected this time of year.
Her colleague, health specialist Laurie Lindell at Payson Elementary School, said many of her students recently went through a rough week of illness.
"There was a lot of nausea, vomiting, headaches, sore throats," she said. "It's just that time of year, when parents need to dress their kids appropriately for school."
A sure cure
The only proven cure for colds or the flu is time, but over-the-counter medications can help relieve the symptoms.
"OTC cough-cold products can make you more comfortable while you suffer," said Debbie Lumpkins, a scientist with the Food and Drug Administration's division of over-the-counter drug products. "They are intended to treat the symptoms of minor conditions, not to treat the underlying illness."
According to the FDA, cold and flu sufferers shouldn't take antibiotics to treat their illnesses. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, and they should be used only for bacterial complications such as sinus or ear infections. Overuse of antibiotics has become a very serious problem, leading to a resistance in disease-causing bacteria that may render antibiotics ineffective for certain conditions.
Fending off the flu
If "C" is the "super immunity" vitamin, then zinc may be the super immunity mineral. Nearly every American's diet is low in this trace element, according to the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, which reported in 1995 that zinc intake has declined among American adults resulting in widespread immune problems.
Zinc levels of vegetarians tend to be somewhat lower than those of meat eaters because animal products, meat in particular, provide about 70 percent of the zinc in American diets and because the absorption of zinc from plants is lower than that from animal products. The richest nonmeat sources of zinc include whole grains, beans, nuts and nut butters and pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Perhaps the most exciting news on the prevention front is the effectiveness of zinc lozenges.
Recent studies at Dartmouth College and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation indicate that they can reduce the lifespan of colds and the flu by half. But be careful, not all mass-marketed zinc lozenges are created equal.
Prefer herbs? Echinacea, which naturopaths and herbalists use to jump-start the immune system, is the top seller. Beware, however, of taking it every day, all winter long. "It can overstimulate the immune system,"Dr. Allen Gaby said, "and that can eventually lead to a depressed immune system."
Most herbalists recommend that you take courses of echinacea, three weeks on, followed by one week off.
For preventive use, don't buy your echinacea in formulas with goldenseal, warns Daniel Gagnon, a well-known herbalist and president of Herbs, Etc. of Santa Fe, N.M. "Goldenseal is most useful for toning the membranes of the nose and sinuses and reducing inflammation. In other words, there must be an existing problem for it to be useful. It's not optimal for prevention."
Gagnon's favorite program for preventing colds and flu includes taking two herbal formulations simultaneously for a period of at least one month. The first, a combination of reishi and shiitake mushrooms, which have powerful immune-boosting properties, strengthens the immune system, Gagnon says. He recommends taking 10 to 20 drops of a tincture made from the two mushrooms twice a day, between meals.
The second tincture, a combination of the herbs astragalus and echinacea, can be taken at the same time, to build up interferon reserves that help cells defend against viral or bacterial attack. Gagnon recommends 30 drops of the echinacea-astragalus combination twice a day.
Easing the pain
The active ingredients that the Food and Drug Administration considers safe and effective for relieving cold and flu symptoms fall into the following categories.
•Nasal decongestants open up the nasal passages. They can be applied topically in the form of sprays or drops, or they can be taken orally. But using sprays or drops longer than three days may cause nasal congestion to worsen.
•Antitussives, also known as cough suppressants, can quiet coughs caused by minor throat irritations. They include drugs taken orally, as well as topical medications like throat lozenges and ointments to be rubbed on the chest or used in a vaporizer.
•Expectorants, taken orally, help loosen mucus and make coughs more productive.
Whether suffering cold, flu, or the generic creeping crud, Dr. Cuthbertson suggests anyone suffering from a serious illness to check with their doctor.