Dr. Rath Health Foundation

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Facts and Fiction About
2009 Swine Flu Pandemic

A global fear of swine flu pandemic that started in April of last year brought many important political and economic decisions affecting almost every country of the world. Was this threat real? Or was it a largely orchestrated campaign to take over and dominate the health care systems of many countries?

Read on to understand some important issues that should help in answering these questions.

Swine Flu –
Reality of Its Occurence, Impact and Public Consequences

You can set your watch by it….

We are familiar with seasonal influenza (flu) which appears regularly during each winter or in early spring, when our bodies are weakened from staying indoors, little sun exposure, insufficient exercise and sub-optimal diets.

But in the last decade the dangers of global spread of viral infections have been appearing in the media quite regularly every 3 years. As such, about 6 years ago the media alerted us about the danger of the SARS pandemic, followed 3 years ago by bird flu, and now… a swine flu. Luckily these earlier pandemics did not spread beyond localized cases in a few countries. Perhaps, our public announcements presented in the New York Times, disclosing the real motives behind these threats, may have contributed to the abatement of fears.

Is swine flu pandemic a real threat?

If you rely solely on information in the media you can become easily confused. In fact, in May 2009 the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the outbreak of swine flu had passed and that there was no immediate danger of its spread. However, a month later (June 2009), after a wave of various medical expert opinions surfaced predicting dire outcomes from swine flu virus, the WHO revised its statement and declared a swine flu pandemic (also called H1N1 2009 influenza). Of course, this put a lot of pressure on the governments of many countries to mobilize their resources and get ready to meet the challenge of combating the flu with drugs and vaccines. READ MORE.

Are flu statistics providing correct information?

Focusing on swine flu pandemics distracts us from important health problems affecting most of the human population

The swine flu campaign is overshadowing other urgent problems that the people of the world face today and, moreover, is undermining scare financial resources that are needed to fight them. Poor living conditions, hunger and malnutrition affect people living in the developing world every day and are the breeding ground not only for swine flu but also many other viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases that cause millions of deaths.  These diseases can be curbed not by new expensive pharmaceutical drugs, but by shifting financial resources from supporting pharmaceutical multinationals to improving living conditions, access to clean water, nutritious food and supplements, education and applying other simple, natural and cost effective measures.

Only about $300 million is needed to eliminate deficiency of iron or vitamin A in the developing world. These micronutrients are essential for immune system function and can be provided by micronutrient supplementation or the enrichment of food.  The cost of this project would represent a small fraction of the world pharma market – which in 2008 accounted for $773 billion. Much of it was made by selling ineffective drugs to poor nations suffering mostly from malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. 

Threat of a Pandemic Turns on Green Light for Drug Business

The perceived threat of a swine flu epidemic resulted in urgent action from public health officials aimed at implementing preventive strategies and making vaccines and anti-viral drugs available to large populations of people. As such, governments have been stockpiling medical drug supplies and relaxing regulations for new swine flu vaccines. Already, various legal constraints have been removed allowing many governments to implement “fast-track” approaches in testing anti-flu vaccines and dispensing various anti-viral drugs, thus turning a blind eye to their safety and the adjusting of proper doses. At the same time, warnings have been issued against promoting vitamins and other natural remedies against swine flu. READ MORE.

Fear of Pandemic –
Effective Measure to Strangulate Economies of Many Countries

The financial costs associated with preparations to fight the pandemic are enormous. Since 2004, the US government paid pharmaceutical companies about $7.9 billion to develop the capacity to mass vaccinate the entire US population by 2011.  This plan included both setting up the production capacity to supply vaccines to the entire US population within 6 months, and stockpiling enough vaccines to inoculate 20 million people soon after the onset of an epidemic. Currently, an additional $9 billion has been assigned to fight swine flu.

The financial cost of stockpiling vaccines is also high. There are about 22.5 million doses of H5N1 bird flu antigen that were stockpiled for an anticipated pandemic that never materialized. The cost of maintaining just two circulating bird flu strains of H5N1 is about $2.2 billion every year. Since flu vaccine expires after 2 years, about 15 million doses of it have already expired or will expire soon.

All this is a high burden on an already sick US economy, but it has a much bigger impact on the financial resources of most of the  countries in the developing world. An orchestrated PR effort in spreading fears among people allows the pharmaceutical multinationals to expand their business and keep even good-willed politicians hostage to the pharma dictatorship.

Anti-Flu Drugs and Vaccines Carry Health Risks

Are anti-viral drugs effective and safe against swine flu?

Currently, four pharmaceutical drugs are recommended for flu treatment and to prevent virus infections: the adamantanes (Amantadine and Rimantadine) and a newer class of neuraminidase inhibitors (zanamivir – Relenza, and oseltamivir – Tamiflu).  

The side effects of Tamiflu mostly include nausea and vomiting. Other adverse reactions have been identified based on the reports from post-marketing use of this drug. These reports are only voluntary and include many unknown aspects, therefore the frequency of occurrence of these side effects is not certain. These effects include swelling of the face or tongue, allergy, rash, hepatitis, abnormal liver tests, arrhythmia, seizures, aggravation of diabetes and many others.  Toxicity, side effects and the development of drug resistance therefore argue against the use of these drugs for flu prevention.

There are limited data regarding the effectiveness of these four antiviral agents in preventing serious influenza-related complications (e.g., bacterial or viral pneumonia or exacerbation of chronic diseases), because they were tested mainly on patients with uncomplicated flu infections. It is not known how effective they are in people who are at high risk for serious complications from influenza. Even fewer studies with these drugs were conducted among children, especially children younger than1 year.  It is also not known whether they can suppress the spread of virus from person to person.

Exposing patients to more health risks from inadequately tested drugs

Tamiflu and Relenza can cause many side effects when taken orally, but now their manufacturers (Roche and GlaxoSmithKline) are pressing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to quickly approve new, intravenous formulations of these drugs. These decisions will also include consideration of a new experimental drug, Peramivir, manufactured by BioCryst Pharmaceuticals. By calling the H1N1 pandemic "a serious threat to our nation" it is likely that they will succeed.

This means that if intravenous delivery of these drugs is approved without proper safety and efficacy testing, it can put many people at risk, especially so given that these drugs will be given mainly to those who are seriously ill. According to the product description for an oral form of Tamiflu, the effects of this drug are not known “in patients with any medical condition sufficiently severe or unstable to be considered an imminent risk of requiring hospitalization”. It is therefore quite possible that intravenous delivery of these drugs to already ill people may endanger their lives even more so than would the flu itself.

Accelerating impact of drug side effects

Supplying anti-viral drugs to a very large number of people, such as in the threat of a pandemic, would magnify the risks of adverse side effects - especially so given that swine flu seems relatively mild (death rate about 0.03%) and that the immune systems of the majority of people can overcome this infection.  Also, the widespread use of these drugs could lead to the development of resistant strains – this is already the case with a human influenza H1N1 subtype, which in the past few years has become almost completely resistant to Tamiflu. (Science 2009; 323 (5918): 1162-1163). Also, it should be noted that influenza A viruses resistant to anti-viral drugs adamantine and rimantadine can emerge very quickly - as early as 2-3 days after initiation of drug therapy. (Curr Top Microbiol Immunol 1992; 176: 119-130)

How vaccines work in our body

Vaccines are being used to boost the body's immune system to better attack infectious agents such as viruses. They traditionally contain a virus (antigen) that has been weakened or killed, as a trigger to the generation of a protective immune response. In addition, some vaccines contain other immune boosting substances, known as adjuvants (in Latin “to help”) as well as preservatives.

Vaccines are intended to stimulate the immune system without doing serious harm to the host, so that when the real pathogen infects a person, the immune system responds to it quickly and blocks its spread. However, vaccines have a very limited use in treating patients who have already been infected. They are also largely ineffective against rapidly mutating viruses, such as influenza  (this is why seasonal flu vaccines are updated every year).

How the body responds to vaccination

Since the main purpose of vaccination is to trigger an immune system response, there are many adverse effects that can develop. These are separated into two types: local and general reactions.          

While some general reactions such as allergy and anaphylaxis can be triggered by the antigen, others, such as adjuvant arthritis, may be caused directly by or exacerbated by the adjuvant. It can therefore be difficult to identify which adverse reactions are mediated by the antigen, which by the adjuvant, and which by both.

Why adjuvants are used in vaccines

Adjuvants are added to boost immune response while using smaller amount of viral antigen. This allows for stretching the supplies of an antigen to produce more doses and sell more products. However, adjuvants can generate additional health complications and side effects.

 In case of threat of serious diseases, antigen–sparing approaches can benefit people by making more vaccines available; however, at the same time, this also increases the health risks to individuals.  In the case of an anticipated swine flu pandemic – which, so far, has had a mild health impact - this massive push for vaccination of almost the entire population looks more like it is motivated by “business profits” rather than our health concerns.

Dangers of adjuvants

The adjuvants considered to be used in swine flu vaccines include Alum and Squalene. Both of these substances can trigger serious adverse reactions in our body. Currently, whilst some vaccines have been made with squalene adjuvants, some will not contain any. READ MORE ABOUT THESE ADJUVANTS.

Dangers of adjuvants: lessons from history

In the 1976 flu outbreak about 40 million people were vaccinated with an inadequately tested vaccine against swine flu (containing squalene). Serious health complications affecting the nervous system that vaccinated people subsequently developed, a condition known as Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS), resulted in the termination of the campaign and withdrawal of the vaccine. READ MORE.

Will we ever know the truth?

Tests of a swine vaccine with new adjuvants in people are very short (about 4 weeks) before mass vaccination begins. Yet autoimmune side effects take months to appear; for instance, the manifestation of GBS took 4 -8 weeks. In addition, the potential variety of adverse reactions to the vaccine is very large. As such, it will be difficult to sort out quickly which of them are vaccine related before tens of millions of people are vaccinated.

In the UK, it seems that health services are cognizant of these risks as they have set up a surveillance system (about 600 letters to neurologists were sent in August this year) to track down and immediately report cases of GBS. Unfortunately, however, the risk does not begin and end with GBS.

We are not aware of health surveillance systems operating in connection with the new flu vaccines in other countries. On September 15th, the FDA accepted 4 new flu vaccines that will be available by around mid-October; primarily for vaccinating pregnant women, infants, children and people with existing diseases. Pressure for vaccinations is building up. It is still voluntary, but there are steps already in place to make swine flu vaccination mandatory. There is still time to act to prevent it if you are concerned with your health and the health of your loved ones. 

General Information About Swine Flu and the Virus Causing It

How can I recognize whether I have swine flu?

The swine flu has the same symptoms as seasonal influenza: fever, cough, muscle aches, sore throat, sometimes intestinal problems, and others. Usually these symptoms last for a few days, sometimes longer than a week, and then our body recovers. Infection by a swine flu virus can be confirmed after laboratory testing for the type of virus present in the body. Compared to seasonal flu, it seems that swine flu virus retains its infectivity for longer (about a week, compared to 2-3 days). In general, the disease itself is relatively mild, and, just as with seasonal flu, the majority of people can overcome it by taking plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, and following a light diet supplemented with vitamins and other essential nutrients.  READ MORE.

Who is at risk of complications from swine flu?

Swine flu has a greater impact on people with a compromised immune system, such as the elderly; small children; those suffering from other diseases (cancer, AIDS); those taking immuno-suppressive drugs (be aware here that recent research suggests cholesterol-lowering drugs - Statins - can suppress the immune system); people who are malnourished or excessively dieting; and those suffering from blood disorders or micronutrient deficiencies.  In such cases, flu can substantially weaken the body making it prone to bacterial infections (pneumonia) or developing other health problems.

It is well known that infections increase the need for vitamin C. It has been shown that in response to infection, white blood cells actively start accumulating this vitamin; the resulting intracellular concentrations of which increase more than 10 times. People suffering from flu or other infections are often deficient in vitamin C, which may contribute to an increased risk of heart attacks, asthma and other problems.

This is why all natural means of strengthening our immune system - such as good nutritious food, nutrient supplementation, clean environment, fresh air, enough sleep and physical exercise - are critical in the effective prevention and recovery from flu and other viral infections. Specific vitamins and other nutrients are necessary to naturally curb the biochemical processes that control cell infectivity, viral multiplication and the spread of the virus in the body.

Micronutrient Effectiveness Against Influenza

Alternatives to toxic anti-viral drugs do exist. For example, several nutrients have been shown to modulate the immune system as well as to suppress the replication and spread of viruses.

Several nutrients are essential for optimum function of the immune system. These include: vitamins C, A, D, E, B6, B12, folic acid, iron, zinc, copper and iodine for cell mediated immunity (optimal functioning of leukocytes, macrophages/monocytes, T-cells and thymus); and vitamins A, D, B1, B2, B3, B6, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, zinc and copper for optimal antibody production (humoral immunity).

There is substantial scientific evidence that vitamin C, amino acids (lysine, proline, arginine), N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and EGCG (from green tea extract) can suppress virus multiplication or viral spread in the tissue.

Flu virus can be controlled at several levels by nutrients:

Our Institute’s approach to the control of influenza has focused on the use of naturally-derived substances with antiviral potential. As one effective strategy in fighting influenza, we have focused specifically on the action of micronutrients and their synergy in controlling the infection and spread of human influenza virus, without imposing toxic effects on normal cells of the host. This research direction was triggered by Dr Rath’s work published in 1992.

This approach has been shown to be successful in confirming the effectiveness of nutrient combinations against human influenza A virus (subtype H1N1). The salient findings from our research are summarized below.

Micronutrient synergy in natural control of H1N1 virus infection

The main aim of our study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a unique micronutrient mixture, containing ascorbic acid, green tea extract, selected amino acids, selenium and other nutrients against human influenza A (H1N1) virus with respect to its actions on

Figure 1: Micronutrients can be targeted at different stages of infection by a flu virus

Figure 1. Steps in influenza infection: Micronutrients can be targeted at multiple steps in the infection of host cells by the flu virus.

The components of the micronutrient mixture were chosen based on their prior reported inhibitory activity towards the replication of the influenza virus and HIV, as well as their ability to inhibit the growth and/or spread of cancer cells.

The results obtained showed that incubation of isolated H1N1 virus with the nutrient mixture resulted in dose-dependent inhibition of neuraminidase enzymatic activity in viral particles (Fig 2) and reduction of viral infectivity upon infection of host cells.

Figure 2: Effect of Micronutrient MIxture (NM) and Ascorbic Acid (AA) on Human Influenza A Neuraminidase Activity

Figure 2. Viral infectivity (enzyme activity): Flu viruses have on their surface a protein (enzyme) called neuraminidase. The neuraminidase enzyme enables a virus to detach from infected host cells and infect other cells. Inhibiting or lowering this activity can make viruses ineffective. The figure shows that incubation of cell-free virus with the micronutrient mixture inhibited the viral neuraminidase activity in a dose-dependent manner, causing 70% inhibition at the highest concentration of the nutrient mixture. In contrast, a single nutrient (ascorbic acid or vitamin C) produced only 20% inhibition at its maximal dose, suggesting cooperative inhibitory effects of the nutrients in the mixture.

Conclusion: Nutrients can cooperatively inhibit neuraminidase enzyme activity associated with human influenza A (H1N1) virus by 70%.

Application of this nutrient mixture to host cells after their infection with the virus led to dose-dependent suppression of viral replication. (Fig 3)

Figure 3: Effect of Micronutrient Mixture on Influenza Total NP Antigen Production in Vero Cells

Figure 3. Viral growth (multiplication): The central core of a flu virus contains genetic material called RNA that is packed together with a protein called NP (nuclear protein). The viral RNA contains all genes necessary for viral reproduction and survival. In cells infected with the flu virus, a decrease in NP production indicates that viral multiplication has been lowered. Figure 3 shows that application of the nutrient mixture to infected kidney cells immediately after infection resulted in dose-dependent suppression of NP production, with complete inhibition occurring at the highest concentrations tested.

Conclusion: Micronutrients can completely block the multiplication of human influenza A (H1N1) virus in infected kidney cells.

In addition, in the presence of these micronutrients, cells infected with the virus had reduced ability to secrete metalloproteinases to their surroundings. This indicates a decreased ability of viruses to spread and infect other cells. (Fig 4).

Figure 4: Effect of Nutrient Mixture on Influenza A Virus-Infected Vero Cell MMP Secretion

Figure 4. Viral spread: Viruses spread in the tissue and reach blood vessels by disrupting the connective tissue barrier made of collagen. The influenza virus not only infects pulmonary areas but also manifests in extra-pulmonary areas, which require basement membrane disruption by collagen-digesting enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMP-2 and MMP-9). By limiting secretion of these enzymes, virus spread in tissues can be curbed. Influenza A viral infection was accompanied by cellular secretion of MMP-2 and MMP-9; the levels of MMP-9 were further enhanced upon exposure to the chemical inducer TPA (see Fig. 4). Treatment of infected cells with the nutrient mixture resulted in dose-dependent inhibition of both MMP-2 and MMP-9 in un-induced cells as well as that of MMP-9 in TPA-induced cells.

Conclusion: Nutrient mixture can inhibit secretion of collagen-digesting enzymes MMP2 and MMP9 that are linked to viral spread in cells infected by influenza A (H1N1) virus.

Suppression of viral replication was enhanced when viruses were exposed to this nutrient mixture prior infecting cells. These inhibitory effects of the nutrient combination were virus specific and not due to non-specific effects on cellular metabolism.

In conclusion, these pre-clinical results that we have obtained have important implications for the development of natural therapies to control influenza infection.

They have shown that a non-toxic micronutrient mixture has the potential to inhibit viral enzyme (neuraminidase activity) in cell-free virus particles, suppress viral nucleoprotein production in host cells, and reduce the secretion of invasive cellular metalloproteinases linked to virus spread.