The first time I experienced some lingering fatigue and the blues after a nasty case of bronchitis, the doctor flippantly assured me, “That’s post-viral depression. It’s quite common. Don’t worry it’ll pass.”
Back in the 1980s, there wasn’t talk of cytokines and inflammation. This was more an anecdotal observation. The symptoms did pass after a week or so but made me cautious each time a virus laid me low.
With warnings of a bumper flu season this winter, as well as being amidst the most virulent phase of Covid, here are some tips to reduce your chances of post-viral complications.
How our body responds to viruses
Our immune system is amazing – it does everything it can to overcome infections. This includes producing a bunch of inflammatory chemicals in an attempt to overwhelm the ‘foreign invader’. Basically, inflammation is how the body defends itself from assaults like pathogens and trauma.
While the body usually copes well with short-term inflammation, a long-term response can potentially cause serious problems (eg cardiac issues, diabetes cancer, etc).
Viruses are sneaky. Sometimes we barely know we’ve had one but other times they can lie us low for weeks. Regardless of the severity of the initial infection, our inflammatory response swings into action.
Post-viral symptoms: when inflammation goes awry
Inflammation can linger after acute viral symptoms begin to ease, potentially leaving us with fatigue, brain fog, weakness or depression.
Beyond the science behind inflammation and its potential to trigger autoantibodies, basically our defence system has been overstretched and wants to make us expend as little energy as possible. I believe our body communicates with us through symptoms. If you’re exhausted, can’t think straight and are feeling low it’s a strong message to rest and recuperate. Don’t soldier on or try to catch up with work.
When post-viral symptom are short lived (from a few days to a couple of weeks), at worst it’s annoying and uncomfortable. But in a very small number of people, this can continue for years, trigger auto-immune diseases or chronic fatigue syndrome.
The problem is, when you’re in the grips of an infection you don’t know if you’re going to be at risk of developing any term post-viral symptoms let alone long-term complications. Like Epstein Barr (the virus that causes glandular fever and can potentially trigger other serious diseases), Covid has shown us that the severity of the initial infection doesn’t necessarily predict who will develop these ongoing issues.
Natural post-viral support
Theoretically the best way to reduce your chances of developing post-viral complications begins with how you care of yourself during the acute infection. While you have the virus rest/hydrate/repeat and follow these suggestions until you feel 100% again.
- Try to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Rest your mind and body, turn off your devices.
- Stay in bed.
- Avoid exercise while you’re acutely ill.
- Support your immune system with nutrients (including medicinal doses of Vitamins B, C and D and minerals like zinc)
- Support your nervous and immune systems with restorative herbs.
- Explore anti-inflammatory herbs
- Work on gut repair, if digestion impacted.
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Gill Stannard is a naturopath and herbalist with over 30 years experience. She works online with people around Australia and the world.