Is it the Flu?

By Steven Baldridge

This is the time of year when I recall an argument between Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  You know the one: “It’s Duck season! No, it’s Wabbit season! Duck season! Wabbit season!”

It’s also the time of year that we argue “It’s Cold season! No, it’s Flu season! Cold season! Flu season!”

Flu, short for influenza, is a family of related viruses that cause a specific group of unpleasant symptoms. All of these symptoms can be caused by other disease organisms as well, so it can be hard to know for sure. For example, the cold viruses can cause many of these flu symptoms.

Fever - Quicker onset and higher fever with influenza.
Chills - Due to a higher fever, chills are much more common with the flu.
Exhaustion - The cold may make you tired. The flu will make you absolutely exhausted. If you are tired enough to want to stay in bed, it could be either one. If you feel too exhausted to blink, it very well could be the flu.
Body aches and Headache - Oh, my aching… everything! Body aches are more common with the flu. This is one big clue to differentiate between a cold and the flu. Throbbing headaches are common with the flu.
Cough - Productive of sputum or dry – could be either infection.
Nasal and sinus congestion - More common with a cold. Usually less intense with the flu.
Vomiting and diarrhea - Not very common with the flu, but by no means do these symptoms rule out influenza infection.

 We know these diseases are caused by microscopic invaders, so you may ask ”Why not give antibiotics to everyone with flu symptoms?” Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Period.  So, if you feel miserable with the “flu” and your doctor doesn’t give you antibiotics, this is why.

 “Well then, why worry about the virus if we can’t kill it? Why not just treat the symptoms and ride it out?” For some of these infestations of our inner sanctums, that is the only option. However, influenza can be really nasty.  According to the CDC “The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history… the number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.

Well that was 100 years ago, and today we have… what? Antibiotics? Antibiotics don’t work on viruses, remember?

 So, what can we do? Get a flu shot! Again, from the CDC “Getting a flu vaccine can protect against flu viruses that are the same or related to the viruses in the vaccine.” Vaccines help your body recognize and fight particular viruses. But the flu vaccine will not 100% guarantee that you won’t get the flu. “Why not?” you might ask. Hold on for a few details: There are four types of Influenza. Influenza A causes roughly 75% of the flu infections in people. Influenza B makes up the other 25%. Influenza C does infect humans, but is so mild we do not bother adding it to immunizations. Influenza D does not infect humans.

 You might be thinking “give me a vaccine for all of Influenza A and Influenza B.”   If only it were that simple. There are only 2 strains of influenza B so that’s pretty easy. However, since viruses are very good at swapping DNA among themselves, thereby creating new varieties, Influenza A has around 200 different cousins in their clan, and even those tend to subdivide slightly. That’s way too many different vaccines to even attempt. So some really smart people study the strains of influenza in the population to figure out the biggest threats in the coming year. They are often very, very right. But those little virus buggers can swap DNA fast, making new strains. Or a minor strain can bolt into the lead in the race for viral dominance. Or you can just be unlucky enough to get hit by one of those minor strains.

 But you went to one of the UH Samaritan Urgent care facilities – in Ashland, Loudonville, or New London – and got your flu shot for only $25, you clever rascal you! There is a good chance you will get by this year without the flu. Furthermore, as one of millions who got a flu vaccine this season, you have possibly helped the entire world avoid a replay of 1918. And you thought you couldn’t do anything to actually make this a safer world, you silly wabbit.

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