This year's flu is a doozy, and it looks like the vaccine this year is only about 10-36% effective against the more virulent H3N2 strain this year. The flu is similar to a cold, but more severe, with cough, runny nose, muscle and body ache, fatigue, headache, fever and sometimes GI symptoms like vomiting or diarrhea, (though if GI symptoms are your primary symptoms, it is probably not influenza, but 'stomach flu' or a gastroenteritis due to a different virus).
The very best way to prevent colds and flu is to make sure you get enough sleep, are eating healthy and moving lymph through staying active at your fitness level. Good hygiene helps stop the spread of illness, and simple things like regular hand washing, covering your cough or sneeze, and staying home if you're sick can help keep you or those around you healthy.
There are pros and cons to vaccination, and there is a detailed risk vs. benefit article in my blog with more information to see if the vaccine is right for you or your family. The vaccine is not without risk, and has such low effectiveness this year that you may want to pass. However, if you are in a high risk population, where getting the flu might cause serious health consequences, there is often a second wave of influenza in the late winter/early spring and it may be wise, depending on your situation. If you do get the flu, the pharmaceutical Tamiflu is often prescribed, but the influenza virus mutates quickly and is already becoming resistant to this drug.
Natural remedies that work for both prevention and/or recovery include
Vitamin D It's no mystery that flu 'season' also happens to be when there is less sunlight for us to make vitamin D. Low levels of this fat soluble vitamin are linked to higher rates of cold, flu and respiratory infections. Many of us here in the northwest are very low in this important vitamin. The current recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is based on calcium absorption needs only, and doesn't take into account all the things this busy nutrient does to help the immune system, mood, and more. My family and I take a large dose of vitamin D for three days at the first sign of illness, 2,000iu per kilogram of body weight, no more than 50,000iu to ward off the flu. We take a daily dose of 2,000-5,000iu throughout the winter as a maintenance dose. This is a fat soluble vitamin and can cause toxicity if you take too high a dose for too long, so you really should have your levels checked before taking large doses.
Elderberry This is a great preventive as well as treatment for the flu. I love the flavor of this as a syrup, and it has been shown to increase immunity, decrease the severity and length of flu symptoms, and can naturally boost immunity. This is one herb that we stock up on at the beginning of the school year to help keep colds and the flu at bay. If you have the plant, you can even make your own! 10ml a day, or per package directions.
Echinacea This herb has been recently shown in a 2013 double blind, randomized, controlled trial (the gold standard for research) to treat respiratory tract infections without causing the same resistance as Tamiflu. It acts as an anti-inflammatory, which eases the symptoms of the flu. You can take it as a tea, mixed with ginger is great for chills, congestion, nausea and other symptoms, and help get in some fluids.
Zinc This mineral supports the immune system and has an antiviral effect. Be careful not to take too much. It is essential to keep it balanced with other minerals, like copper. Also, I recommend avoiding applying it in the nose directly. 30-50mg per day at the first sign of illness is enough, and you can discontinue or lower the dose after you start to recover.
Probiotics Making sure you have the best balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut can help boost your immune system and decrease overall inflammation. It's seasonally a great time to be taking in bone broth, which supports gut health, gives you lots of great nutrition and keeps you hydrated and healthy to prevent illness, as well.
Vitamin C This is an old stand-by for a lot of people. The evidence for this is mixed, but so many people swear by it, and it's relatively inexpensive, so it's worth a try. Like vitamin D, it is possible to get too much of a good thing. Large doses can lead to loose stool, which is not optimal if you already feel awful. Up to 1,000mg a day for prevention, and up to 4,000mg a day if you're sick are reasonable, but back off if you start having GI problems.
Chiropractic care A study in 2011 suggested that chiropractic care had the potential to help boost the immune system, which may lead to prevention of the flu and other illnesses. Medical statistics from Davenport, IA from the 1918 pandemic suggest that those patients with flu who sought chiropractic care survived more than those who sought standard medical care only, at a ratio of 1 per chiropractic care to 40 who sought only standard medical care.
Rest You need to rest. Keep yourself at home to avoid infecting others, and lay low. Sleep. Give your body the time it needs to utilize all the natural immune work it already knows how to do.
Fluids Whether it's echinacea or ginger tea, bone broth, chicken soup, or plain old water, it's essential to stay hydrated when you're fighting the flu, or even a garden variety cold.
Most of the time, you'll recover just fine at home, though it may take some time. Don't rush back to all your usual activities at once, but gradually step back into your routine. You may be more fatigued the first week or two, even after the other symptoms have gone away. If you have an underlying health condition, like diabetes or heart disease or an autoimmune disease, it may be prudent to go to the doctor early in the course of a cold or flu. Otherwise, you should be seen by your provider if you are not able to hold down fluids, or have a sustained high fever, or other serious symptoms.