No flu shot for you? Don't panic. Vitamins, herbs, walnuts, and raw garlic can ward off the flu virus, some say. A few chiropractors even promise to boost immunity with an adjustment.
But what works? Very little of it, doctors say. In fact, "people who trade on other people's misery and fear are charlatans," Bennett Lorber, MD, chief of infectious diseases at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, tells WebMD.
The CDC reports this year's flu shot may not protect against a strain of influenza that's hitting the U.S.
Q. Does this mean the flu shot is useless?
Not at all. Although this year's flu vaccine doesn't match two of the three main types of flu strains now in circulation, people who did get a flu shot and catch the flu get a much milder disease. This can make a life-or-death difference to people who are at high risk of flu complications, such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly,...
Prescriptions: When it comes to flu virus protection, only the flu shot and FluMist actually work. "FluMist [the inhaled vaccine] is very good protection, as much as the shot ... but FluMist is in short supply this year, too," says Gio Baracco, MD, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
However, even though the antiviral medicines may help you feel better, you can still infect other people until the drug has taken full effect. You'll be up, going to work or daycare, yet spreading the flu virus to others.
Supplements: People swear by supplements and herbs -- like echinacea, zinc, garlic, ginseng, and large doses of vitamin C -- to strengthen the immune system. But most doctors have trouble taking it seriously.
"To my knowledge, none of these has been shown to work very well for prevention," says Baracco. "And once you're sick, they really make no difference whatsoever in fighting a flu virus."
"There's no reason to believe that herbal remedies will prevent flu," Lorber tells WebMD. "Echinacea has been well studied now, and shown to do no good."
Lorber advises taking a daily multivitamin year-round to stay healthy and fight off a flu virus. "A multivitamin is the only commercially available product with any immune-boosting value," he says. A study published last year showed that taking a daily vitamin and mineral supplement decreased the number of respiratory infections in people over age 45 with type 2 diabetes.