2/1/18: THE FLU VERSUS A COLD: ‘Choose’ Your Misery

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Can you have the flu, if you don’t have a fever?

That question became relevant to me two weeks ago when, a few hours after I had posted my 1/17/18 blog about influenza, I started coughing and feeling like I “might be coming down with a virus.” By nighttime, I was flat-out in bed, bracing for a freight-train cough that rumbled and rattled through my poor aching chest. The Mucinex® I swear by hardly touched my cough and congestion, and I couldn’t drink enough water to soothe my dry throat. Reading became too much of an effort to manage. Television only hurt my head. Eating anything but soup was out of the question.

Was this the flu or just a severe cold?

***

On Monday, Jan. 15, I met with four neighbors in my town to discuss the latest ruinous zoning changes wrought by our mayor and his pro-development cronies and how we might counter them. By Wednesday, four of the five of us had this upper-respiratory illness, and the fifth seemed a likely culprit for having infected us: He did most of the talking.

Just thinking about the viral droplets hanging unseen in the air about us as he vented his spleen makes me weak and tired again.

When we sick folk finally got well enough to compare notes—I was so sick the first 72 hours that I slept all day and had to entrust my dog to a friend to feed and walk—the others referred to having had the flu. Each one also had quickly infected his or her spouse. Since I hadn’t had a fever, at least not one discernible by touch, and few chills and body aches, I reasoned that my symptoms were flu-like, but not the flu.

And yet, calling my illness just a “chest cold” didn’t begin to capture my misery. I seriously worried about pneumonia. The rattling, pain, and severe congestion in my cough-racked chest hit me hard. I was sick with a virus for 10 days in December, too. What the hell was the matter with my immune system?

One obvious answer to that existential query is stress. As the primary caregiver for my 93-year-old mother, I often feel stress. In fact, it is only when I am out of town, getting away, that I don’t feel it.

I had just written about dying from flu-related sepsis. Was I coasting for a collision with karmic irony?

Fortunately, I averted a collision and was able to get out of bed on the fourth day and even take a shower on the fifth. But after two weeks, I still do not feel completely “well.” I need to build up my strength.

***

So, can you have the flu without a fever?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which knows a little something about infectious diseases: Yes. Without a doubt.

In my 1/6/18 flu primer blog post, I listed the usual flu symptoms as:

Fever, sometimes with chills

Cough

Sore throat

Runny or stuffy nose

Muscle or body aches

Headaches

Fatigue

Of these symptoms, which the CDC supplied, I had the cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, and fatigue. In my worst hours, I experienced a few chills and body aches, but I never had a headache. I rarely get headaches.

Here is how the CDC compares influenza and the “common” cold, head-to-head:

Symptom onset:

Flu: abrupt

Cold: gradual

Fever:

Flu: usual, lasts 3-4 days

Cold: rare

(It’s important to note, the CDC says, that “not everyone with flu will have a fever.” Indeed.)

Aches:

Flu: usual, often severe

Cold: slight

Chills:

Flu: fairly common

Cold: uncommon

Fatigue, weakness:

Flu: usual

Cold: sometimes

Sneezing:

Flu: sometimes

Cold: common

Stuffy nose:

Flu: sometimes

Cold: common

Sore throat:

Flu: sometimes

Cold: common

Chest discomfort, cough:

Flu: common; can be severe (Unbelievably so.)

Cold: mild to moderate; hacking cough

Headache:

Flu: common

Cold: rare

The CDC also cites pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections as complications from influenza, which can cause mild to severe illness.

So, is it flu or a cold? I have my answer, and all I can say is I’m glad it’s February. Maybe Phil will be kind.

I hope you have stayed well.

Ann, 2/1/18

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