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Swine flu – an alternative approach by Professor Gerber, Alumnus Medical Faculty. University of Berlin Germany.
Everybody has experienced common cold or even flu several times, nevertheless more and more people are getting very nervous about it in view of the current swine influenza pandemic although the virus has proven to be relatively mild with mostly moderate symptoms.
Every year, seasonal flu causes an estimated fifty thousand deaths in the European Union alone; most people die from bacterial infections and secondary illnesses. The highly variable type A is the most virulent one among the influenza viruses. Based on the antibody response these pathogens can be subdivided into different stereotypes, e.g. H5N1 that causes avian flu, or H1N1 that caused Spanish flu in 1918, and the swine flu 2009. Owing to frequent variations in their genetic pattern, every year different strains prevail and, therefore, novel vaccines have to be manufactured.
Flu vaccination may help to avoid influenza. Antiviral medicines lessen flu symptoms, but they are usually only for individuals who could become seriously ill from flu. Side effects of antiviral drugs include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and insomnia. Although the H1N1 type causing the current influenza outbreak is of lower virulence, authorities nevertheless do fear the mortality rate could increase this winter and assess the pandemic as a huge challenge for the country in the near future. In the last quarter of the year a vaccine against the swine flu virus should be available as it has been announced. But, virus researchers worry about one thing above all: formation of a new subtype due to combining of two different strains of viruses and initiation of a sudden antigenic shift. Such a rare but not unrealistic incident could thwart all efforts.
Sober-minded contemporaries may wonder about alternative approaches to prevent flu, asking the do´s and don´ts. Why so many individuals are not becoming ill in spite of contact with infected persons? The main reason might be that their immune defence copes effectively with the virus challenge. Until recently, immunity was seen as the deal of extremely specific antibodies targeting the invaded pathogen. It takes certain time until the acquired immune system produces the explicit antibody. Vaccination with innocent viruses may bridge that gap. One should have in mind, however, that the overwhelming part of the antimicrobial defence has to be done by the innate immune system. This arm of immunity was the poor cousin of biomedical research for long time. By now, many advances have been made toward comprehension host innate responses to microorganisms.
It is now generally accepted that macrophages and other white blood cells constitute the backbone of our innate immune system. Just like gate guardians they accumulate in the epithelia of nasopharynx, mouth, intestine and other mucous surfaces – the main entry ports of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. These cells are armed with germ-line encoded proteins to recognize a set of surface structures on pathogens, engulf, kill and destroy the invader. In that way the overwhelming majority of potential infections are arrested in epithelial and superficial connective tissues long before antibodies and antigen specific killer cells have had time enough to come to the rescue.
Occasionally, the immune system may be brought out of balance, gets overwhelmed and/or responses faultily. Allergy, asthma, arthritis pain, chronic fatigue, diabetes, cancer, and frequently recurring infections are related to impaired immunity or inappropriate reactivity. A wide range of factors may restrict immune defence: old age, poor diet, exhaustive life style, mental or physical stress, sudden change in personal life, grief, exposure to UV irradiation, and possible insufficient exposure to microbial products that exercise the innate immune system in a natural manner. The immune system of infants and school children may have not been fully developed.
Studies in many laboratories have begun to elucidate the network of surface receptors on immune cells and signalling mediator molecules. On this base it has become possible to conceive of concepts to up-regulate or down-regulate specific facets of the host response to infectious agents. This approach allows the host to better cope itself with invading microorganisms. Viruses and other pathogens are not able to become resistant against such immunomodulators.
Numerous reports document the ability of certain sugar polymers to non-specifically activating cellular and humoral components of the host immune system. During evolution, the immune system has „learned” to recognize surface beta-glucans as alien to the members of the animal kingdom, and to allot a microbial as a potential pathogen that is implemented with such a molecular assembly. Beta-glucan – or exactly beta (1,3),(1,6)-D-glucan – primes the host immune system through a mechanism similar to that of an infection by a pathogen.
It occurs as a primary constituent in the cell wall of fungi and bacteria. Beta-glucan molecules apparently have a structural function by forming a fibrous scaffold of the cell wall of bakers yeast and are responsible for the rigidity and for cell shape. Disintegration of yeast cells by autolysis and skilful fractional purification of the cell wall have been shown to be a gentle procedure to give products with high immunomodulatory activity. Detailed studies elucidated a pattern recognition mechanism for the beta-glucan interaction with the receptor complex on macrophages. Harsh procedures to yield highly purified beta-glucan may disorganize the supramolecular assemblage of the polyglucoside-glycoprotein-network. In experimental assays on neutrophils highly purified samples have proven lower biological activity.
As yeast has virtually disappeared from today’s diet since it has been replaced with chemical surrogates in the baking of bread and cakes and beer brewing, a daily intake of about ½ a gram of beta-glucan prevents flu virus infection and puts our innate immune system on highest alert to cope with any subsequent infection such as influenza and pneumonia. As soon as a vaccine against flu will be available continuous regular administration of beta-glucan is recommended. Veterinarians investigated the antibody titre against the swine flu virus in vaccinated pigs. They confirmed better results when the animals concomitantly were fed beta-glucan brands from yeast. Intake may be combined with the application of antiviral drugs. The mode of action is much different and each component amplifies the efficacy of the other. Lastly, no adverse effects or toxicities were communicated by any health or ill individuals involved in studies. Both in the US and Germany beta-glucan has been consumed as a food supplement in large quantities for years.