Homeopathic Medicine: An Effective Alternative for Influenza Pandemics

With the recent outbreak of H1N1 (swine flu), which fortunately has resulted in relatively few deaths, the media has often alluded to the influenza pandemic of 1918, in which the death toll was up to 100 million or more worldwide, over a year and a half.

That kind of statistic is quite frightening if one imagines, or as health officials project, that even more deadly strains of influenza are potentially developing from reassortments of influenza RNA circulating among populations of pigs, birds and humans. The risk is potentiated by the swapping of RNA fragments to form new influenza viruses in huge factory farms of chickens and pigs, tended by low-income humans in developing countries such as Mexico, India, China and Indonesia, with limited access to medical care. The risk is compounded by the fact that new strains also may have the ability to become immune to existing influenza drugs such as Relenza, Tamiflu, and the amantadines, as some strains of swine (H1N1) and bird influenza (H5N1) have already done.

Influenza, a viral illness, takes about 48-72 hours to show symptoms after exposure. Most often it begins with a sore throat, cough and runny nose, similar to the common cold. What makes influenza different is fever, chills, severe fatigue to the point of prostration, and headaches, especially centered in the occciput and sinuses. There are marked aches and pains in the back, arms and legs, felt in the muscles or deep in the bones. The person often wants to lie down in a darkened room because of light sensitivity. The symptoms may progress to the chest, with burning pain under the sternum and a productive, often painful, cough. Severe cases of influenza can rapidly deteriorate into bronchitis and pneumonia, with shortness of breath, bloody sputum, and fluid in the lungs, sometimes leading to death.

Approximately 90% of deaths from seasonal influenza are in people over 65 years old. In the recent swine flu outbreak, death has more often come to younger people, with people over 50 largely unaffected. This is similar to the 1918 swine flu pandemic, which also hit the younger generation hardest.

In the 1918 outbreak, death often came swiftly, even in a single day, which has not typically been the case in the current pandemic, and nearly 30% of cases died (without the benefit of anti-viral drugs). In fact, the overall mortality rate of the current pandemic as of May 19, 2009 was 79 deaths out of nearly 10,000 reported cases in 40 countries, though 95% of the cases have been counted in North America. Out of 5,123 cases in the U.S., only six have died. Five of these were compromised by existing health conditions. Since a typical seasonal flu in the U.S. may kill as many as 36,000 people out of 10 million infected per year, it is possible that this swine flu may be more deadly in developing countries such as Mexico, but not as likely to result in death in the developed world. Of course the eventual number of people infected may total many more if the infection were to progress geometrically for sufficient time, resulting in far greater mortality.

THE WESTERN MEDICINE APPROACH

 The public health approach to dealing with influenza locally and globally, promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO), is to vaccinate populations against influenza on a yearly basis or whenever pandemics threaten, and to treat with antiviral drugs and supportive care to reduce mortality. These measures can be quite helpful, but are insufficient to prevent a pandemic from spreading globally.

The main problem with vaccinations is the vaccines are developed using existing viral strains that take time to develop and mass produce. By the time the vaccines are available for mass inoculation, the viruses may have spread widely or mutated enough that the vaccines are rendered partially or totally ineffective. With resistant strains of influenza virus, the antiviral drugs may also only be partially effective, if at all.

THE HOMEOPATHIC APPROACH

 How can homeopathy be of help in such a potentially bleak scenario? Primarily because the effectiveness of homeopathy is not dependent on the nature of the virus itself, which is changeable, but on the individualized or group selection of homeopathic medicines that match the characteristic signs and symptoms of the illness with which the virus is associated. For homeopathy to be effective, the homeopathic physician does not even have to know that the cause of a particular patient’s illness is a virus, though it may be useful for public health reporting. What is necessary are the observable and reported symptoms of the patient. A brief interview and examination of 15-30 minutes can determine which homeopathic medicine is required for an individual patient. Epidemics (or pandemics) tend to have a common set of characteristic symptoms, which most affected patients will exhibit. Usually this will boil down to a choice between two or three homeopathic medicines, of which one will match the majority of cases. The homeopathic term for this most effective medicine is the ‘genus epidemicus.’

Paul Herscu, N.D., did a pilot study in the 2007 influenza season, in which he determined the genus epidemicus to be Nux Vomica, based on the intense chills and high fever which the researcher noted in many of the study patients who were diagnosed with influenza. He extrapolated this to the 2008 season which presented with very similar symptoms, and even provisionally to the current swine influenza pandemic, believing that all three influenza outbreaks were similar enough that Nux vomica would be the primary remedy useful in treating patients with influenza. See a synopsis at www.hersculaboratoryflu.org/research/2007_1.html

HOMEOPATHY’S HISTORY OF SUCCESS

In epidemic infectious diseases of the 19th and early 20th century, homeopathy was quite successful in treating such frequently fatal infections as cholera, typhus, yellow fever, and smallpox. In epidemic after epidemic, the homeopaths were able to save the lives of a far greater percentage of patients than other doctors. The results of homeopathic treatment were so much better than the allopathic treatments of the day that homeopathy gained much wider popular acceptance as a result.

In the Spanish Flu of 1918, now known to be a form of swine influenza, as many as 100 million deaths were reported worldwide. Dean W.A. Pearson of Philadelphia, as reported in an article published in the Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy in May 1921, collected 26,795 cases of influenza treated by homeopathic physicians with a mortality rate of 1.05%, while the average reported loss by allopathic doctors was 30%. The International Hahnemannian Association collected 17,000 cases treated by homeopathy with only a 4% mortality rate. (Dewey, 1921).

Impressive results, to say the least. Allopathic physicians used large doses of aspirin, a relatively new drug, as the primary medicine to treat the influenza outbreak. The homeopaths disparaged this practice, and attributed some of the deaths in patients they treated to the overuse of aspirin prior to homeopathic treatment, while patients treated only by homeopathy in the first 24-48 hours usually survived.

In that influenza pandemic, the two homeopathic medicines used in the most cases were Gelsemium, still a very common medicine prescribed in the first stage of influenza cases today, and Bryonia alba, most often given in the later, more respiratory stages of influenza. The third most common medicine used was Eupatorium perfoliatum, which is characterized by such aching in the muscles and especially the bones as though they would break. The Gelsemium state typically presents with extreme fatigue with muscular weakness, dizziness, drowsiness, dullness and trembling. Bryonia patients have irritability, excessive dryness of the mucous membranes, stitching pain on motion, especially with breathing or coughing, and excessive thirst. (See below.)

It is important that those choosing homeopathic medicine as their primary treatment for seasonal or HINI swine flu should see a homeopath if at all possible, rather than attempting to treat themselves. If no homeopath is available, then the following information may provide some guide to self-treatment using available over-the-counter homeopathic medicines. (This information in no way replaces medical examination and treatment by a licensed physician, but may be a useful adjunct to shorten or lessen the severity of influenza. If you have severe symptoms of influenza, go to your nearest hospital emergency room for evaluation and treatment.)

HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES FOR INFLUENZA

The traditional approach to preventing influenza in homeopathy has been to give the homeopathic nosode, Influenzinum in either 30C or 200C potencies, made from the three most recent influenza virus strains each year. Various protocols have been developed, from giving a single dose once at the beginning of flu season, to giving a dose weekly or monthly as a preventive until the influenza season ends in the spring. There is no absolute data that this is effective, but homeopaths in practice report positive results. Two studies have been done, using weekly dosing, with promising, but inconclusive results (Nollevaux, 1990, Attena, 1995, reviewed in Vickers, 2004.) Seek the guidance of a homeopath before using Influenzinum for prevention.

Another possible preventive and treatment measure is to give the homeopathic medicine Oscillococcinum 200C, a proprietary preparation from the heart and liver of the wild Barbary duck, sold over the counter (with directions) by Boiron Laboratories. Wild ducks are major vector of influenza virus throughout the world. We have often recommended this product for the very first stage of influenza, as it seems to shorten the course and lessen the severity of symptoms if given in the first 24-48 hours. Several large, double-blind studies have also borne this out. (Ferley, 1989; Casanova, 1992; and Papp, 1998).

Individual homeopathic medicines may also be prescribed by a homeopathic practitioner or used for self-care. (See our book, Homeopathic Self-Care, Three Rivers Press, 1997 for more details on self-prescribing.) Below we have listed the ten most common homeopathic medicines for influenza in rough order of use by ourselves and other homeopaths. Read the symptoms of each medicine carefully. If there is a good match, it may be tried, often producing good results, reducing symptom severity and shortening the course of the influenza.

Except for Oscillococcinum which has a proprietary dosing regimen, the other remedies may be given for self-care in 30C, 3 pellets every 2-4 hours until improvement. If no improvement after 3-4 doses, the next best medicine should be chosen. If aggravation of symptoms occurs, one should stop giving the medicine until the worsened symptoms return to baseline, then give another dose. When improvement has begun, only repeat the medicine when symptoms begin to relapse after improvement. Under guidance of a trained homeopath, higher potencies such as 200C, 1M or 10M may also be used, sometimes with greater effectiveness. If three remedies have been self-administered without results over a 24-48 hour period and symptoms have worsened, it is advisable to seek treatment with a trained homeopath and/or conventional treatment with a licensed physician.

Oscillococcinum (symptoms indicating its use)

  • Very first stage of influenza without specific symptoms
  • Desire to wash the hands
  • Fear of contagious disease
  • Bursting, throbbing headache
  • Earache like needles
  • Redness of the eyes
  • Nose stuffed up, sneezing or clear followed by thick discharge
  • Hoarse
  • Loose cough with thick mucus
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Worse from milk and eggs
  • Better from heat and rest

Gelsemium sempervivens

  • Comes on gradually over several days
  • Dizzy, drowsy, droopy and dull
  • Feels as if run over by a truck
  • Exhaustion and prostration
  • Wants to lie down and sleep.
  • Muscles aching
  • Dull pain and chills up and down the spine
  • Eyelids heavy
  • Pressing frontal and occipital headache
  • Anxiety, trembling, worse from performing
  • Moderate fever with perspiration
  • Worse from fright
  • Better from lying down with head held high; bending forward

Bryonia alba

  • Gradual onset
  • Very irritable
  • Body aching
  • Wants to lie still and be left alone
  • Dryness of mouth and chapped lips with thirst for cold drinks
  • Painful, hard dry cough, worse from any movement
  • Fever feels hot and dry
  • Bursting splitting headache worse slightest movement
  • Desire to go home
  • Talks of money, business
  • Worse from any movement, coughing, eating, drinking
  • Better warm drinks

Eupatorium perfoliatum

  • Deep aching in the bones and muscles
  • Sore and bruised as if bones are broken
  • Restless, but keep still because it hurts to move
  • Eyeballs feel sore
  • Exhaustion
  • Sneezing and runny nose
  • Chills between 7 and 9 a.m. that make them feel better
  • Occipital headache with heaviness after lying down
  • Cough with soreness in the chest
  • Hoarseness
  • Painful cough
  • Yellow tongue
  • Worse from cold air: coughing; the sight or smell of food
  • Better from conversation; perspiration
  • Desires cold drinks before a chill, which are vomited as soon as they become warm in the stomach

Nux Vomica

Recommended by Paul Herscu, N.D. as the genus epidemicus of the 2008 and 2009 influenza seasons, and possibly the swine flu outbreak as well

  • High fever with violent chills
  • Feels cold
  • Stuffy nose and sniffles
  • Nausea
  • Cramping, spasms in muscles, digestive tract
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, odours
  • Irritable and impatient
  • Wakes at 3 a.m.
  • Worse from exertion; cold, too much food
  • Better from discharges, rest
  • Desires spicy food, but is aggravated by it

Rhus toxicodendron

  • Onset after overexertion or getting cold and wet
  • Extreme muscle aching and stiffness, better from continued motion
  • Aching and stiffness worse on getting out of bed or rising from a seat
  • Constant desire to stretch and move around to find a comfortable position
  • Extremely restless
  • Anxious
  • Sore throat
  • Tip of tongue red
  • Better from warmth and hot baths or showers, continued motion
  • Desires milk

Baptisia tintoria

  • Comes on suddenly
  • High fever
  • Chilly
  • Soreness and heaviness
  • Head feels heavy and occiput feels bruised
  • Painless, inflamed, purplish throat
  • Feels bruised and sore all over
  • Profound prostration
  • Great thirst
  • Limbs feel scattered over the bed
  • Bed feels too hard, yet too sick to move
  • Dazed and sluggish
  • Bad breath and offensive excretions
  • Worse from motion
  • Better from rest

Aconitum napellus

  • Sudden onset from exposure to a dry, cold wind, infection or from an emotional shock or fright
  • High fever comes on suddenly
  • Sore throat
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hot watery nasal discharge
  • Dry, croupy cough comes on suddenly in first 24 hours
  • Tremendous restlessness
  • Fear of impending death; panic attacks
  • Cheeks hot and red, or one red, other pale
  • Profuse perspiration with anxiety
  • Rapid pulse
  • Better from fresh air
  • Worse in a warm room, in the evening or at night, when exposed to tobacco smoke or near music

Belladonna

  • Sudden onset
  • High fever
  • Flushed face
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hot, dry, extremely sore throat, worse on the right side
  • Throbbing headache
  • Right sided symptoms
  • Worse noise, light or being jarred; 3 PM; lying down
  • Better sitting up in a quiet dark room
  • Possible delirium and hallucinations
  • Thirst for cold water
  • Desire for lemons, lemonade

Arsenicum album

  • Anxiety about health with fear of germs, contagion and death
  • Very chilly
  • Restlessness
  • Burning pains
  •  Burning eyes
  • Thin, watery, burning nasal discharge.
  •  Wheezing with anxiety
  • Burning thirst
  • Prostration
  • Insomnia
  • Worse from midnight to 2:00 AM; cold food and drinks
  • Better warmth; warm drinks

References

· Attena, F. et al. A randomized trial in the prevention of influenza-like syndromes by homeopathic management. Revue d’Epidemiologie et de Sante Publique 1995; 43:380-2.

· Casanova, P.. Gerald, R. Results of three years of randomized, multicentre studies on Oscillococcinum/placebo. Unpublished: Oscillococcinum – rassegna della letterature internationale 1992.

· Dewey, W.A. Homeopathy in influenza – a chorus of fifty in harmony. The Journal of the American Institute of Homeopathy, 1921, 1038-1043

· Ferley, J.P., A Controlled Evaluation of Homeopathic Preparation in the Treatment of Influenza-like Syndromes, British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 1989, 27, 329-335.

· Papp, R. et al., Oscillococcinum in Patients with Influenza-like Syndromes, British Homeopathic Journal 1998, 87, 69-76.

· Nollevaux, MA. Clinical study of Mucococcinum 200K as a preventive treatment against flu: a double blind trial versus placep. Unpublished 1990

· Ullman, R., and Reichenberg, J. Homeopathic Self-Care: The Quick and Easy Guide for the Whole Family, New York, Three Rivers, 1997.

· Vickers, A.J, Smith C., Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like syndromes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD001957.

This article was reprinted from Townsend Letter – The Examiner of Alternative Medicine, www.townsendletter.com. For subscription info email: info@townsendletter.com, or call: 360-385-6021.

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