One way to prevent flu is to catch flu

The way many of us are encouraged to get vaccinated against flu, we might imagine this practice is a failsafe way to avoid the condition. But we’d be wrong. As I wrote about recently here, flu vaccination is a lot less effective than we have generally been led to believe. Plus, it’s perhaps worth bearing in mind that many individuals need to be vaccinated for one person to benefit. In other words, the vast majority of people who are vaccinated against flu will not benefit.

More recently I wrote about an example of how flu vaccination can be reported in a way which puts it in a very positive light and perhaps fails to draw our attention to the fact that this practice is generally quite ineffective. This week I came across another article which has made me think again about the wisdom flu vaccination.

It concerned the supposed flu ‘pandemic’ of 2009. The virus responsible was of the HIN1 type, and was colloquially referred to a ‘swine flu’. Back in 1918, a similar flu strain caused an estimated 675,000 deaths in the US. Yet, in 2009, the ‘epidemic’ killed around 14,000 people – less than in some regular flu seasons. How come the 2009 virus had a much more benign effect than predicted?

There is evidence that catching a previous flu infection might have helped contain the HINI virus [1]. Researchers in America assessed 500-odd people during 2009 and 2010. The individuals were tested for the presence of antibodies in their blood to HINI viruses. These were individuals who had not been vaccinated, meaning the antibodies must have come from natural contact and infection with the flu virus.

In those without antibodies, 33 per cent of individuals succumbed to the HINI virus.

In those with antibodies, however, only 18 per cent succumbed to the HINI virus.

In other words, previous natural exposure to a HINI virus appeared to afford significant protection against infection with the particularly virulent H1N1 virus of 2009. And the authors of the study speculate that previous exposure may well have contributed to the relative mildness of that ‘pandemic’.

This of course raises the possibility that one way to protect ourselves from flu is to catch flu – which of course is part of the natural order of things.


1. Couch RB, et al. Prior infections with season influenza A/H1N1 virus reduced the illness severity and epidemic intensity of pandemic H1N1 influenza in healthy adults. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2011 epub 10th November 2011.

11 Responses to One way to prevent flu is to catch flu

  1. TerryJ 24 November 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Dr B.

    What types of flu were in the 2011 jab ?

    I thought the purpose of the flu jab was to build up the antibodies to protect against specific strains according to WHO’s best guess for what would be around this winter.

  2. Feona 25 November 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    I had some kind of infection nearly 4 years ago, but have never been sure what it was. All I know is, it laid me low for 3 weeks and took another month or so for me to feel really well again. Maybe that was flu?

  3. Feona 25 November 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    Oops! Should have added that I haven’t caught anything similar since.

  4. Andrea Turner 25 November 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    I have never had a flu jab and never will, just as I have never had a mammogram. I realize that the drugs companies over-hype the benefits and scaremonger so that they can earn more money. (I will be taking malaria tablets on my imminent holiday in Tanzania though!)

  5. ValerieH 25 November 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    One of the factors in the 1918 flu that made people so susceptible was that many people had endured rationing during the war. They were nutritionally deficient.
    From what I read at the time H1N1 started, the first victims were people who worked at an industrial hog farm in Mexico.

  6. newly paleo kris 26 November 2011 at 12:55 am #

    Great article! I’m mildly amused by the spelling variants of H1N1 with differing degrees of roman numeralisation though. 🙂

  7. DanC 26 November 2011 at 8:11 am #

    ValerieH: Americans will go to any lengths to assign the sources of flu epidemics to some other country (China, Hong Kong, Russian…Spanish for the 1918 flu). The 1918 worldwide flu pandemic originated in Haskell County, Kansas USA and was transmitted to Europe by American troops going to WWI.

    As for H1N1, it is not clear which side of the US/Mexico border it originated. It well could have been in Arizona or New Mexico as Mexico.

  8. stephen Hoyt 26 November 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    Your last line of this article sums it up perfectly; “one way to protect ourselves from flu is to catch flu – which of course is part of the natural order of things”

    Often the correct answer is the simplest and this may also relate to the natural order concept of “survival of the fittest”; strong immune system individuals who procreate have a good chance of passing on a strong immune system to their offspring.

    Medical interventions probably do not perform this type of immunity transfer and may actually harm normal immunity functions in future generations.

  9. stephen Hoyt 26 November 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    You may want to read this interesting article by an American medical doctor (Dr. Mercola) regarding flu vaccines;

    Dr. Briffa is not alone in standing up to the “pharma” industry by voicing skepticism of us all taking more and more vaccines and medications to “improve” our health.


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