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Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

Posted January 06, 2018 12:00 PM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: cold flu illness

At the end of November, I made the frustrating and painful mistake of treating a cold when really I had the flu.

After receiving my religiously scheduled annual flu shot in late September, I confidently went about my life. Then, in the middle of holiday shopping (yes, I try to get that finished early as well. Don’t I sound delightful?), my chest started hurting. I convinced myself that it was the beginning of a cold and took some over-the-counter cold medicine.

Later that evening, the chest pain worsened, but I still attributed it to congestion. It was also accompanied by intensified cold symptoms of the like which I have never before experienced: faucet-like runny nose, painful sore throat, and excessive sweating thanks to a temperature of 102.5 degrees F. Yet, instead of calling the doctor, I propped myself on the couch to watch Netflix, convincing myself that I would feel better in the morning.

I didn’t.

The pounding headache set in as soon as I opened my eyes the next morning. Surely someone had hit me, I thought (and they would have been well within their rights considering how much whining I had done the day before). Accompanying the headache was a dizziness that kept me from driving or making my way into the kitchen, which was fine, because I wasn’t hungry; a symptom that alarmed most of my family enough to insist that I call my doctor.

I detailed my “cold” symptoms to my doctor, all the while insisting I needed an antibiotic to kick this super cold. After all, I had the flu shot and I wasn’t nauseous — just not very hungry — so it couldn’t possibly be the flu.

As it turns out, one man’s lack of appetite can be another man’s nausea. I did, according to the doctor, indeed have the flu and was prescribed Tamiflu. I minimized the doctor’s warning that the symptoms would take some time to alleviate (seven to 10 days in some cases). After all, I was the kind of person who got her flu shot on time and finished her Christmas shopping with annoying speed. Surely, I would heal earlier than most….

Twenty-four hours after my first dose of Tamiflu, my symptoms seemed to worsen. I still couldn’t drive, much less navigate from room to room. Instead, the indent of my body on the couch deepened.

Treating myself with over-the-counter Tylenol, I would have brief moments of clarity where my nearing 103-degree temperature would break in a deluge of sweat; a sight that seemed to restrict my husband to a neighboring room where he would frequently call out asking if I was ok.

For the rest of that week I alternated between these brief sweaty moments of lucidity and episodes of fetal-position crying and dizziness. The pressure on my chest seemed to increase with each day, prompting me to call the doctor on day four to insist that I had been misdiagnosed and that I should instead be treated for pneumonia — a detail I am neither proud of nor can I say was received with any kind of warmth or concern.

This went on for the seven to 10 days that the doctor had suggested it would. While day 5 had me off the couch and day 6 saw the return of my typically ample appetite, my chest still hurt and my breathing was still labored. Eventually, my high temperature started to decrease only to round-house kick me back to the indented couch on day 7.

It took exactly two weeks to return to normal, although week two was markedly better, save the labored breathing, sluggishness and nagging cough. If, according to the research I’ve read about the flu after my own bout, I had recognized the symptoms and gone to the doctor sooner, much of this might have been lessened, if not prevented.

As we struggle through what will likely be one of the worst flu seasons in history (surely not just because it happened to me, wink, wink), consider the following cold/flu symptom checklist so that you don’t misdiagnose yourself…or worse still…refute your doctor’s diagnosis.

Cold

  • Can last days
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal symptoms
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Cough

Flu

  • Can last as long as two weeks
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches/soreness
  • Congestion
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
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#1

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/06/2018 1:22 PM

The moment I start to feel any cold or flu symptoms coming on I take 2 grams of vitamin C every 4 hrs...that seems to always work....If you've waited too long and already have major symptoms, go with 4 grams every 4 hours... Eat something when you take the vitamin C, you don't need to eat a lot just something....Now I learned my lesson about waiting many many years ago, and haven't had any colds that I can remember....

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#3
In reply to #1

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/06/2018 7:38 PM

It's funny that you mention vitamin c because I typically take a daily dose of it but ran out the week before getting sick. I had wondered if that had something to do with the severity of symptoms I experienced! I am fully stocked up on it now and won't be making that mistake again any time soon! I'll be sure to put your suggestions to use the next time there is even a hint of a cold or the flu!

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#5
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/06/2018 11:49 PM

I don't take any chances,, I have several varieties of vitamin C and keep a backup supply as well...I don't take it daily, just every now and then I'll take 2 grams twice in a day...and if I come into contact with anybody that looks sick, I'll usually take it as a prophylactic measure...Vitamin C is one of those water soluble vitamins that you can't overdose on, so several grams does not pose a threat....the only thing is it can sour an empty stomach, so at least a snack is called for after ingestion....

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#23
In reply to #3

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/09/2018 3:45 PM

I also take daily Vitamin C (Ester C, milder on the innards).

I also caught the death (or so I thought) right before Christmas. It was bayad! (Bayad is an order of magnitude past way bad.)

I have a suspicion that infections like these are spread by snotty nosed little travelers.

Gotta love 'em, but they bring more than glad tidings, and they are not of comfort and joy.

It always seems to hit me just when I think I have it all under my thumb, life is good, but there is hidden (or revealed) stress, like stressing over the purchase of a different vehicle, for example.

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#24
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/09/2018 3:48 PM

I have a suspicion that infections like these are spread by snotty nosed little travelers.

Nothing like a snot-nosed nephew or niece that comes gets up and sits on your lap, coughs and sneezes in you face, then informs you they have a cold... been there.

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#2

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/06/2018 6:40 PM

This year's the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic, where more people (3% - 6% of the global population) died of the flu than perished in World War I. (Fortunately, the flu virus is not too interested in anniversaries. )

The 1918 pandemic was of the H1N1 variety, which resurfaced in 2009, causing some worry at the time. Interestingly, in 1918, the affected were predominantly young and healthy whereas most flu outbreaks mainly affect the very young, very old, or unhealthy individuals. One theory is that in 1918 the immune response of the healthy individuals is to blame.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1918_flu_pandemic

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#4

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/06/2018 9:13 PM
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#6

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 3:10 AM

Unfortunately the 'flu shot is not the be all and end all for the 'flu. As an old bloke I have an injection yearly, this staves off most of the problems but, it does not give total protection. You can still develop the 'flu but it is generally much less severe than if you do not get the shot.

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#10
In reply to #6

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 1:12 PM

This year's flu vaccine is 34% effective, since it's last years vaccine.

Still sources suggest that taking it is better than not.

I've never had a flu shot in all of my 70 years. I'm afraid that the cure, for me, may be worse than the disease.

Living in the desert may, or may not, help protect against the flu.

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#7

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 3:13 AM

The problem with the flu jab is that it is only given for one strain of the virus each year, based on best knowledge of what is expected to be the predominant strain that year. Most years they get it right, but it seems this year two other strains are around in greater numbers than that which was predicted.

I have the option to get the jab through my work, but choose instead to eat fresh fruit including citrus each day and get plenty excercise (commuted around 4000 miles last year by bicycle). I’m only in my 50s, but haven’t had the flu or a cold needing time off work for nearly 20 years.

The old adage,” Feed a cold, starve a fever “ is accurate, and a hot toddy helps get the sleep needed to allow the immune system to do its stuff, without resorting to over the counter “remedies” which only mask symptoms for both yourself and your immune system.

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#8

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 11:30 AM

When I feel the Chilly Willie's coming on, I usually take a dose of zinc, such as zicam. This help to lessen the effects of the flu and it's duration considerably. Research on it's pathological histology appears to support this.

Citation :

Zinc intake and resistance to H1N1 influenza / www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov

American journal of public health

My wife ( Vietnamese ) swears by Kwan Loong oil. She prefers Chinese herbal medicines. She feels that most ailments are psychosomatic in nature and contributor's are diet.

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#12
In reply to #8

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 2:16 PM

I swear by zinc also, 50mg daily after I am exposed to a cold really helps.

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#15
In reply to #8

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 9:54 PM

"My wife ( Vietnamese ) swears by Kwan Loong oil. She prefers Chinese herbal medicines. She feels that most ailments are psychosomatic in nature and contributor's are diet."

Hey, if it works, don't knock it.

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#17
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/08/2018 12:19 AM

Oh I don't, she is always reminding me how lucky I am to have her as my wife :)

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#9

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 11:57 AM

Initially on the onset one may confuse the two... But there the full one had the flu,... there is no mistake... unless you have some type of delirium and don't know any better.

First time I got the flu... I was 20 years old... came home from logging in the woods... I was tire... or exhausted... had somewhat of an appetite but no where near where it should have been.... ached all over and a headache... I thought it was working all day... went out to milk cows... took a lot longer... when I finally came in the house,... I was burning up...

That night was fortunately the worst... it cleared up in a few days.... and only then after I was feeling better, did I realize how crappy I felt when I had it.

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#13
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 4:06 PM

And to add to that... The first time I received a flu shot was 4 years ago... and have been doing it since.

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#16
In reply to #9

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 10:10 PM

".... ached all over and a headache..."

Had the same symptoms about 50 years ago. Went to my room to take a nap, and woke up 2 weeks later in a hospital bed.

Good ending - I met my future wife.

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#20
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/08/2018 7:01 AM

sooo... 1 point for the flu is good.... got it...

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#11

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 2:04 PM

So sorry the flu shot gave you the flu. I had a flu shot many years ago, and had the flu twice that year. I swore off flu shots, and never had another. How do think going to the doctor sooner would have made you get better quicker? I was told if you don't treat it, you get over it in about 2 weeks; if you do treat it, it takes about 14 days. You do the math.

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#22
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/09/2018 12:03 PM

And this is why I do not get shots (though I guess that you could argue that by getting a shot, you would be getting sick at a time of your own choosing). I have gotten to the point where I get sick (sore throat , coughing, no nausea or vomiting - a cold) for about 2 weeks every 3 or 4 years. I haven't had the flu for over 10 years.

Every time you get through a cold or flu, your immune system is exercized.

That's also why I don't use alcohol-based hand sanitizer - I want my system to naturally take care of pathogens ordinarily encountered in daily life.

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#14

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/07/2018 5:40 PM

Based on M-ReeD's account, I'm not sure I've ever had the flu. Yikes.

The longest I've ever been "knocked-down" has been about 2 days. I generally haven't been getting flu shots except when in uniform and you have no ability to say no.

I understand people's reluctance to get the shot when you end up feeling like crap for a couple of days and then the shot may not protect you anyways.

Of course for some people, the danger of contracting the flu means that you get the shot if it even improves your odds only by a few points.

Prevention seems to be the best approach. Keep the hands and fingers away from the nose and the eyes, as those are two of the most 'receptive' areas for bugs to get a foothold.

Keep washing those hands, eat a well-balanced diet, and get your rest.

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#18
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/08/2018 5:34 AM

"you end up feeling like crap for a couple of days"

I've been getting the shot every year for over ten years now, and the worst I've ever felt is a slight bruising (then only when you prod it) where the shot was given. Is it different for different people?

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#19
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/08/2018 6:54 AM

I too get the flu shot every year, only side effect is a sore muscle around the injection site.

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#21
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/08/2018 6:32 PM

I would sometimes experience a mild, all-over achy feeling with just a touch of fatigue. Usually cleared up in a day or two days max. I figured it was just the result of the immune system going into over-drive to produce the anti-bodies to counter the injection of the 'dead virus'. Never caused me to miss work or anything, but just an annoyance.

If I had compromised health in some way, I would probably be seeking out the flu shots.

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#25

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/12/2018 7:24 AM

Here's and article from 'TIME' that I've found interesting.

There are those that claim they never had a flu shot... for whatever reason... Hell I fell into that category until about 5 years ago. But the flu can create compound affects where the flu may not kill you, but your weaken immune system as well as open up other avenues where other things cause by the flu can kill you.

This piece is from TIME,... its an interesting read called;

The Flu Killed a Healthy 21-Year-Old Man. Here's How That Can Happen

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#26

Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/16/2018 8:57 AM

I don't do the flu shot since the efficacy isn't apparent (at least, watching two elderly parents get the shot and then get the flu year after year was not convincing).

My personal cold-or-flu kit includes:

1) Vitamin C. 1000 mg acts as an antihistamine, and like Solar Eagle I take it every four hours. Aside from the usual benefit of cleaning up free radicals, it also helps to prevent your lungs from filling up and turning into pneumonia. Less than 1000 mg is not effective for that purpose.

2) Eucalyptus Oil. Fantastic stuff, anti-inflammatory and kills many respiratory pathogens, if not influenza. It is also recommended by the WHO as a palliative care in flu pandemics, and can usually be found in an ordinary drugstore. I put a splash of it on a tissue and inhale. Keep that next to me to breathe when sleeping, and wake up with clear lungs. Also, in case of influenza (vs others) I add a drop of cinnamon oil to the above. Experimentally, it has anti-influenza activity.

Since prevention is better than a cure, I also use the 'oils on a tissue' for a five minute breather any time I've been likely or certainly exposed to flu. The key to getting a 'live ambient vaccine' is (1) keep the amount of innoculum as small as possible. Scrub hands, change clothes, use the oils to kill any airborne virus that may have landed in the nose or lung surface ready to breed.

3) Eleuthero is both anti-inflammatory and anti-influenza, so a good tincture is nice if you can get it. I use it mainly for the preventive strategy, as the efficacy is IMO limited once you are in full blown immune cascade meltdown, it is pretty much wasted. All care at that point is palliative, to minimize the damage while the virus runs its course.

4) Palliative care: pomegranate juice, elderberry juice, black currant juice all are reported to have some antiviral activity against influenza and are worth including in the "plenty of fluids" when sick. I keep a bottle of one of the above stashed in the cupboard for the day I find myself with flu. These juices tend to be overly thick and sweet so I dilute them with water or tonic water.

5) Egg soup. I've never been so sick I couldn't make it, and it really helps. Heat 2 cups of broth or soup cube/water to boiling. Grate in some garlic while it heats. Add a few 3-minute noodles and cook them (optional). Add chopped green onions and stir until bright green (20 seconds?). Crack an egg into the soup and stir it in. Remove from heat and add a squeeze of lemon (if available). Add a tablespoon or two of plain yoghurt, and slurp it down. Recipe can be reduced to broth + egg and still be of benefit.

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#27
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/16/2018 8:59 AM

I think good health to start with is the best way to fight off flu... but anyone with a weaken immune system,... the risk increases dramatically in both cases, getting a flu shot or not.

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#28
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Re: Confusing the Flu for a Cold: A First Person Account

01/16/2018 9:58 AM

For a weakened immune system, prevention is X10 the necessary and best strategy. I know it well as my mother has an immune condition. Really good hygiene habits, including hand washing and food hygiene, has served her well. Every time you go out, you have to treat it as an exposure which could be deadly. Food is a big contact point. Everything you buy has been handled not only by workers but also by other shoppers. This is one reason I started growing vegetables including a winter supply of greens under lights, so she can get some fresh food without the big risk.

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