News

HAVE YOU REALLY GOT THE FLU?

Most of us either have or know someone who has ‘the flu’ right now. It’s that season and a big one according to The Public Health Agency of Canada. Their FluReport says: “The ILI consultation rate increased and is well above the expected range for this time of year. A total of 3744 laboratory detections of influenza were reported, of which 97.8% were for influenza A viruses, predominantly A(H3N2).” So what are ILI and A(H3N2)?

A(H3N2)

There are three types of influenza virus - A, B and C. Influenza A and B cause most of the cases of influenza. Influenza C is much milder and seen mostly in children. H3N2 is the name of an A type virus given to one of this year’s flu viruses. A New York Times report says the H3N2 component in this year’s seasonal flu vaccine “has been a good match against almost all the confirmed H3N2 samples the agency has tested.” This is good news for those who got the flu shot as many years there is no match at all. However, having had a flu shot still gives you no protection against ILIs.

Influenza-like Illnesses (ILI)

Technically, any clinical diagnosis of influenza is a diagnosis of ILI, not of influenza. This distinction usually is of no great concern because, regardless of cause, most cases of ILI are mild and self-limiting. Furthermore, except perhaps during the peak of a major outbreak of influenza, most cases of ILI are not due to influenza but to a seasonal virus instead. ILI is very common and adults can average 1–3 episodes per year and children can average 3–6 episodes per year. Influenza-like illness (ILI) is a nonspecific respiratory illness characterized by fever, fatigue, cough, and other symptoms that stop within a few days. In most cases ILIs are caused by viruses such as rhinoviruses and respiratory syncytial virus, adenoviruses, and parainfluenza viruses.

Symptoms

The Mayo Clinic notes that flu and flu-like viruses often cause muscle aches, joint pain and lower back pain. Aches throughout the body are a common symptom associated with ILIs. You may feel aches throughout the muscles of the body as a result of fever, or you may experience a headache. Often, this soreness is a direct result of the constriction of muscles and blood vessels due to fever but it may also be a result of the body fighting off the infection. Both flu and flu-like viruses can cause respiratory symptoms. These symptoms can include a dry or productive (phlegmy) cough, runny or stuffy nose and sore throat. It’s possible to experience gastrointestinal upset leading to nausea, diarrhea and vomiting with flu and flu-like viruses.

Real Flu Or ILI?

The one hallmark symptom of influenza is high fever, often accompanied by headache. Unlike many other seasonal viruses (ILI), flu headache and fever come on quickly, and the fever can get quite high-up to 38.4 degrees Celsius in adults, and as high as 40.5 degrees Celsius in children. Fever can result in other symptoms as well, including pain behind the eyes and light sensitivity. But here’s the ‘however’: sudden fever and headache can also occur as symptoms in seasonal viruses (ILI). So how do we know if we really have the influenza virus and do we care? We don’t know for sure we have influenza unless we provide a swab sample to a doctor who sends it to a lab for confirmation and we do care if we have it if our immune systems are compromised for reasons such as age and other illnesses. For the rest of us either way, treatment is the same.

Ways To Get Through

Antibiotics kill bacteria but not viruses. Therefore, they are not routinely prescribed for viral illnesses such as flu or flu-like illnesses. Try these instead:

  • Drink lots of water. Particularly with a fever, it’s easy for individuals suffering from seasonal flu-like viruses to become dehydrated. This exacerbates respiratory symptoms-even, surprisingly a runny nose-so staying well hydrated with clear fluid is one way to reduce symptoms of flu-like viruses
  • Take vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency may actually be the true culprit behind the seasonality of the flu - not the flu virus itself. This is probably the single most important and least expensive action you can take
  • Get plenty of rest. Just like it becomes harder for you to get your daily tasks done if you're tired, if your body is overly fatigued it will be harder for it to fight the flu
  • Exercise. It would be wise to radically reduce the intensity of your workouts while you are sick allowing your body to use that energy to heal. And you probably won’t feel like it anyway
  • Use natural antibiotics. These include oil of oregano, garlic and even chicken soup (see our recipe). These work like broad-spectrum antibiotics against bacteria and viruses in your body
  • Try natural pain relief. As the immune system kicks into action, immune cells release inflammatory chemicals that help make the body less attractive to pathogenic invaders. This inflammatory response assists in clearing up a viral infection but it can be associated with some uncomfortable side effects. For pain eat twenty cherries – fresh dried or frozen, one cup of papaya or two tablespoons of tahini – a sesame paste. To loosen phlegm try some pineapple
  • Stay home. The best place to get plenty of rest and recover from illness that is not life-threatening is usually in the comfort of your own home
  • Make a list of ways you will support your immune system beginning today. So that next year, when these seasonal viruses arrive as sure as Santa, you won’t be on that list

Notes

With seasonal viruses it is common to have a cough that lingers for 1-2 weeks after other symptoms have gone. Green phlegm does not necessarily mean that you have a secondary chest infection. Symptoms of a secondary infection might include: the recurrence of a high temperature, worsening of cough, shortness of breath, fast breathing, and chest pain. Other complications that sometimes occur include sinus infection and ear infection.