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Swine Flu, SARS, and Kimchi

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Swine Flu, SARS, and Kimchi

A couple of thousand years ago, makers of Kimchi (a Korean pickled cabbage side dish), long before the appearance of SARS and the Swine Flu, would never have imagined their diet staple might prevent and possibly cure these viral infections.

In April ’09, The World Health Organization (WHO) raised the influenza pandemic status to phase four warning.    

What’s the difference between the yearly flu season and being infected by the A (H1N1) flu?  According to the World Health Organization: 

“Influenza A (H1N1) is a new virus and one to which most people have no or little immunity and, therefore, this virus could cause more infections than are seen with seasonal flu. The new influenza A (H1N1) appears to be as contagious as seasonal influenza, and is spreading fast particularly among young people (from ages 10 to 45). The severity of the disease ranges from very mild symptoms to severe illnesses that can result in death. The majorities of people who contract the virus experience the milder disease and recover without antiviral treatment or medical care. Of the more serious cases, more than half of hospitalized people had underlying health conditions or weak immune systems”. [1] 

“If there is anywhere in the world that took a beating by SARS, it was Hong Kong,” says Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Manila. “The lesson was learned.” Drawing on the past, Hong Kong has already issued travel advisories and stepped up controls at airports, including the use of infrared temperature scans and the detainment of travelers arriving with flu-like symptoms. [2] 

The countries and overseas territories/communities that reported their first pandemic (H1N1) 2009 confirmed case(s) since the last web update (6 July 2009) as of 22 July 2009:  

Afghanistan, Andorra, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, La RĂ©union (French Overseas Community), Haiti, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Namibia, Sint Eustatius (Netherlands Antilles), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, the Sudan, Tonga, Turks and Caicos Islands (UK Overseas Territory), the United Republic of Tanzania, American Samoa (US), Guam (US)  

As of July 22, 2009, the Grand Total of deaths attributed to swine flu is 1,154.  For updated information of reported cases visit the  WHO Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 site listed at the bottom of this article.   The below listed link to a Google Map depicts areas of the swine flu outbreak providing an accurate geographical image of infection outbreaks.  

How is it treated?  

For suspected cases of the virus, a five-day treatment of zanamivir alone or combination of oseltamivir and either amantadine or rimantadine is initiated. For confirmed cases of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection, either oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) may be administered. [3]

Will a facemask protect me from being infected? 

We have very limited information of the effectiveness of facemasks and respirators in combating and control of influenza. If used correctly, facemasks and respirators may help reduce the risk of getting influenza, but they should be used along with other preventive measures, such as avoiding close contact and maintaining good hand hygiene. 

“Unless otherwise specified, “respirator” refers to an N95 or higher filtering face piece respirator certified by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Three feet has often been used by infection control professionals to define close contact and is based on studies of respiratory infections; however, for practical purposes, this distance may range up to 6 feet. The World Health Organization uses “approximately 1 meter”; the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration uses “within 6 feet.” [3]

  Any prognosis for the future?  

Approximately 90-95% of infected people recover despite harsh symptoms to include 100+ degree temp. headaches, extreme fatigue, chills, diarrhea, sore throat, aching muscles, basically all the common flu symptoms.  

To date, caution must be taken as swine flu (H1N1) is still spreading and may become a pandemic affecting entire regions or countries.  Annual Flu outbreaks are expected and predictable. However this outbreak has not followed usual flu patterns.  The future speculated prognosis is split among those who believe swine flu (H1N1) will diminish and die out this summer ’09 and those who believe it will return to claim more cases similar to the influenza pandemic of 1918. 

So, what’s this potential wonder drug at the Korean dinner table? 

Since 2003 when SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) rolled across Asia, Koreans remained unaffected for the most part.  Being the daily and national side dish that it is, Kimchi was promoted to status of natural preventative and cure for SARS with virtually no scientific evidence to support the claim. Believe me, as someone who eats kimchi daily and loves it so much I operate a site dedicated to kimchi and Korean cuisine, I welcome and listen to the suggestions, and hope for further scientific investigation validating such claims.  Imagine being obsessed with a food that is suddenly found to save lives in the face of a new and deadly health threat.  

Scientists at Seoul National University fed a kimchi extract to thirteen chickens infected with avian flu.  A week later, eleven of the thirteen chickens apparently recovered.  To date, such studies remain unpublished and certainly not recognized by any medical or scientific community.  Professor Kang of the Seoul National University who observed the thirteen chickens stated Leuconostoc (lactic acid bacteria) found in Kimchi had a positive effect on the bird flu. 

Hong Jong Hoon, a technical consultant with the Korea Agriculture Development Institute, suggested another possible and connecting factor is the ways Koreans eat most of their garlic!  

 Hong began his researching studies at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website where he found a connection between SARS and the corona virus. He then made his way to Stanford University’s site, which lists – along with reducing stress, getting more sleep and frequently washing your hands – putting drops of garlic juice on the nostrils as a way to fight infection.  Put it all together, he says, and you see why South Korea has had only a handful of suspected cases of SARS and no fatalities, despite its close proximity to China, where the virus originated, and to hard-hit Hong Kong and Taiwan.  Hong concedes that many other countries make ample use of garlic in their diets, including Italy and China.  But they cook their garlic; Koreans eat theirs raw in kimchi. His theory may be tough to prove, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, he says. [4]

 Park Yong Woo, a doctor of family medicine at Seoul’s Samsung Hospital, welcoming needed clinical testing, says, he’s convinced of its healing properties.   

“I’d like to compare it with an orchestra,” Park says. “It’s made of cabbage. But within that are a lot of healthy constituents, including garlic, ginger and chile peppers. It’s very harmonious food.” 

Kim Man Jo, a food industry consultant and author of several books, including Kimchi, Kimchi, believes Kimchi’s curing or managing properties against some infectious disease is created and found in the fermentation process – “They haven’t done experiments yet, but harmful diseases can be dominated by the lactobacilli.” she says. 

Depending on the variety, I know the most common nappa cabbage kimchi variety has a strong combination of cabbage, red chili pepper powder, fish sauce, lots of garlic, salt, green onions, daikon radish, sugar, and yes, even more garlic – all fermented to perfection to deliver the heavenly flavor and strongest anti-microbial punch.  Withstanding the lack of research in swine flu and kimchi as a preventative or cure, research has found that these friendly bacteria to boost the immune system.  Further research has shown live indigenous bacteria and chemicals they produce can penetrate the intestinal wall and stimulate growth and maintenance of immune cells.  Strains of Lactobacillus can also stimulate defense cells and increase anti-viral chemicals like interferon.

 To date we do have specified medical treatment and course of action despite no vaccine. While it excites me to find kimchi may possess combative properties against certain viral strains, until the claims are subjected to the  “scientific method”, it shall remain a folkloric home remedy alongside chicken soup.  Despite the lack of evidence, If a pandemic condition swept the area I live in, I would certainly heed Western medical approaches and most importantly, double up on my kimchi consumption.  Shall we say to each his own?  

With the unfortunate number of those who’ve died from SARS or Swine Flu (Swine flu killing over 1100 victims worldwide as of July ’09 and over 700 claimed by SARS) perhaps it will take a pandemic and desperate condition to even consider researching these currently unfounded beliefs and claims.  Today, at least 168 countries and territories have reported confirmed swine flu cases. 

Since I first ate kimchi in 1990, it remains a favorite daily side dish that I always look forward to.  Whether it cures anything or not, it certainly makes my taste buds and overall system feel great.  I just can’t sit to dine at home or a Korean restaurant without it.   

While these flu strains come and go or stay, those who enjoy eating kimchi (touted as one of the five healthiest foods in the world by Health Magazine) continue to get more than their share of nature’s probiotic which some day may add new flu strains to it’s long list of combated enemies. 

In the meantime, for various flu strains we have existing vaccines and for those we don’t or other still standing bugs such as the common cold, we have Gatorade, chicken soup, and old-fashioned but very effective rest. 

[1] TIME – The Lessons from SARS – By Kayla Webley/Hong Kong – Monday, Apr. 27, 2009

[2] What is the new influenza A(H1N1)? From the World Health Organization

[3] Swine Flu – Medicine.net

[4] The Daily Press.com – Hoping for a cure in kimchi – By Mark Magnier   *Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 *Google Map depicting outbreaks of the swine flu outbreak      

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