Every year the seasonal flu kills about 36,000 people and sends 200,000 to the hospital, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every year during "flu season" (typically starting around Thanksgiving and peaking around Christmas) there's a rush to get flu shots; especially among the elderly, the ill, and the very young, the concern is well-grounded.
For most sufferers -- between 5 and 20 percent of the population every year -- the flu brings fever, headaches, fatigue, aches and pains, stomach distress and other symptoms that make life miserable for days.
Rumor of a pandemic flu outbreak has brought increased concern. It's important to understand exactly what this means, rather than just being fearful of something arriving at the nearest airport to which you have no defense.
Viruses are the invading organisms responsible for most epidemic illnesses. Virus-caused illnesses range from the common cold to cold sores, warts, measles and chicken pox, hepatitis, West Nile virus, the "ordinary" flu, and AIDS. Most recently, it's the Avian flu that has people on edge.
We can help prevent the passage of viruses from person to person by avoiding large indoor gatherings of people (right...during the holiday season...) and exercising good sanitary practices - washing hands often, using tissues, ventilation of rooms, etc.
Viruses are known to be resistant to pharmaceutical antibiotics. Many public health experts have pinned their hopes on the antiviral drug Tamiflu to fight the avian flu, for example, only to find that resistent cases are emerging. A flu virus mutates frequently and sometimes a new strain emerges that humans have not been exposed to. If the strain spreads easily between humans, it can cause widespread death and overwhelm global health resources. (It's important to realize that the avian flu is NOT passed easily between humans; it seems to mostly be passed from poultry to humans.) A flu virus from half a world away is one to which you will most likely have no immunity, unlike the local ones you contact, and the mutations can leave us even more defenseless.
Enter the powerful healing properties of the oil of the tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia. Tea tree oil has various uses in medical treatments because of its triple antibiotic features: it's an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. Just because a substance is naturally-occuring with no known side effects, does not mean it can't be effective. Tea tree was an important medicinal for native Australians. They drank tea made of the leaves and applied tea tree poultices to treat wounds, cuts, and various skin disorders. In 1920, Dr. A. Penfold tested the oil's properties for the first time. He discovered that tea tree oil was 12 times more potent than the accepted antiseptic at the time, carbolic acid. Dr. Penfold's research prompted further testing in the following decades, contributing to its increasing use by the public.
Tea tree oil is a valuable alternative to pharmaceuticals. Its complex chemical composition makes it extremely difficult for germs to develop resistance. Traditional antibiotics possess more simple chemical structures to which germs can easily develop immunity. Tea tree oil is readily absorbed and it continues to block germ growth at the site for several days after the initial application. The oil is a proven immuno-stimulant and anti-viral agent; it is even currently being tested in the treatment of AIDS.
You should apply a small test amount to the skin before using it for the first time, as with any product, there is always the chance of sensitivity in any particular individual. Adding a couple drops to a vaporizer and inhaling the steam helps to freshen and disinfect the air, killing germs that infect the sinuses and lungs, and opening clogged respiratory passages. The oil can be rubbed into the skin at full strength, or mixed with a carrier oil or lotion. The oil can also be added to a hot bath and is then assimilated both through the skin and the nasal passages.
Personal use of tea tree oil is not to be substituted for advice from your family doctor. It is, however, useful in prevention and as a first aid treatment. And there is anecdotal and scientific evidence of truly amazing results using this phenomenal substance.