Got a sore throat? Bit of a headache? Aching joints? Have you been saying to your friends: “I’ve got flu!”? Do you know what it means when you say that?
Flu? Or just a common cold?
Last week I didn’t blog because I was suffering from snotty sniffles myself. My headache and sore throat got me thinking about how we communicate to others that we aren’t feeling well. Often, people who have a sore throat, headache and aching joints in winter will say to their friends: “I have flu”. But it’s likely that that’s not the case at all. Flu is the common contraction of the medical term influenza. Influenza is a specific virus, the strains of which alter every year. Influenza can be diagnosed by taking a swab from the back of the nose and throat. This is sent to a lab and a number of tests are done to see if you carry the influenza virus. However, testing isn’t always necessary because if you are generally a healthy person, your body will overcome influenza in time. If you have snotty sniffles, it’s more likely that you have a common cold – which has very similar symptoms to influenza. This might explain why we often think that they are one-in-the-same.
The flu vaccine
There’s also some confusion about the flu vaccine, and we don’t always talk about it accurately either. This morning at gym I overheard a woman in the change room say to her gym-buddy: “I have had such terrible flu, and I can’t believe it because this year I had a flu vaccination!” to which said gym-buddy replied: “Oh! I never have the flu injection, they basically inject you with flu and make you sick”. Both of the above statements are incorrect.
Even if you have a flu vaccination, you can still get a cold. Similarly, if you have a flu vaccination, you can still get influenza but, because you are vaccinated, it should be less severe most of the time. Now, on to the vaccine itself… The influenza vaccine usually used in healthy people over 8 years old is called an “inactivated” vaccine. Yes, it does involve injecting you with the relevant strains of seasonal influenza, but this is not a live virus. What happens is that your body builds up antibodies to the influenza, but it is not possible for you to get influenza from the inactivated vaccine.
Some people do firmly believe that the influenza vaccine has given them flu. It’s more likely that these people had their flu vaccine at the same time that they were developing a common cold and the symptoms of one are confused with the symptoms of the other. So, next time you have the snotty sniffles, you’d probably be more accurate if you told your friends you “have a cold” rather than telling them that you “have flu”.
When to do it
Last words, the flu vaccination offers about 7 months cover, so the best time to have it in South Africa is the end of March, and this should see you through an influenza free winter. Though you may still get a cold… Bless you!
The views published in this blog are entirely my own (informed) opinions. They are open to debate, discussion and disagreement.