The FluMist gave me the flu. But for how long?
September 13, 2008 10:33 PM   Subscribe

I believe I am having an adverse reaction to the FluMist. How long can I expect to feel like complete crap?

Okay, last week my doctor INSISTED that I get the FluMist. I tried to explain no, I had an unbelievably stressful week, had been eating and sleeping very little, and had dealt with a lot of personal issues, and the ONLY time I have ever gotten the flu was over 10 years ago when I'd gotten a flu vaccine. The nurse laughed at me and said "no way, this is safe, you'll be fine."

Well, that was last Thursday. Sunday night at 5 a.m. I woke up feeling like crap because the pain from swallowing felt like razor blades. I spent the next day in bed, trying to feel better, SURE that it was the damn FluMist. I went in AGAIN to the doctor and had a throat culture to make sure it wasn't strep (it wasn't) and AGAIN they insisted that "no way could that have made you sick, blah blah blah."

By yesterday I felt better... had two margaritas with girlfriends... AND WOKE UP TODAY AND FELT LIKE CRAP ALL OVER AGAIN. Achy, throat sore, tired, cranky, wheezing, etc.


My question is this: For those of you that have had the nasal FluMist (NOT the shot with the dead stuff in it), and had a bad reaction to it, how long did it last? I've gone through a whole box of Theraflu and started on box two and don't want this to go on forever. I can't just stay home in bed for the rest of my life. Any tips on speeding up getting over it? I HATE that I can't go to the gym right now and I CANNOT drink orange juice thanks to IBS. Other suggestions? Timeframe?
posted by Unicorn on the cob to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
(what is it with doctors not listening? grrrr. Next time, listen to your gut feelings, you know your body)

Aunt Nicky's flu and cold treatment:

Kill viruses/bacteria in respiratory tract by breathing hot steam from a half-full pot of boiled plain water. drape a towel over your head, then put your face over the pot (not close enough that you burn yourself from the steam). The towel helps trap the steam and keep it concentrated as you breathe it in. Breathe deep into lungs and sinuses.
The intense heat kills the vermin.

Drink lots of water to clean out the pipes. No booze.

Clinically proven to shorten the time of flu: Snort Zicam twice a day, not more.

Antiseptic: Gargle with warm salt water

Dip a Q-tip in peroxide, drip one drop into each ear. Let it roll in. This kills germs in the narrow Eustachian tubes.

Lovites, if your IBS can handle it

Sambucol, amazing stuff and delicious, elderberry extract

And my wishes that you get better soon. :)
posted by nickyskye at 12:41 AM on September 14, 2008

FluMist is a live vaccine, so it does contain the live influenza virus. The ability of the virus to reproduce is very limited, so it sounds like you just got really unlucky and ended up with the very thing the vaccine is supposed to prevent. In other words, you're probably not having a reaction to the FluMist, you've just come down with flu (though possibly a milder version of it). I can't think of any other reaction you could get from it.

I'd recommend against most of the things nickyskye has suggested, although some seem like good suggestions for other reasons.

Inhaling steam at a survivable temperature won't kill any significant amount of the flu virus or bacteria (the standard advice in food preparation is that boiling for 10-15 minutes will kill most viruses and bacteria - this is not something you want happening in your lungs). It may make it easier to breathe, by dilating your bronchial tubes. So if you're congested and wheezy it could help with that. (Although a hot shower would probably be better and you wouldn't have to get your face close to a bowl of very hot water.)

Disinfecting yourself in an effort to kill the bacteria and viruses in your body is pretty much impossible. Gargling with salt won't kill any significant amount of bacteria, but it will help to reduce inflammation by drawing water away from inflamed areas.

Sticking peroxide in your ear won't even get to your eustachian tubes unless your ear-drums have been perforated and even so, peroxide in your eustachian tubes sounds like a really bad idea. Peroxide ear-drops are usually used to break down wax, not for infections.

Vitamin C (eg. Lovites) won't help you get over this current illness and there's good evidence to suggest that taking vitamin C and other anti-oxidants is a bad idea anyway (eg. the recent Cochrane Review). The zinc-based Zicam may be "clinically proven", but the evidence for zinc-supplementation in flu and colds is conflicted and if there is a real effect, it's going to be very small.

Hydration is, however, very important. Alcohol will make you feel like crap mostly because it dehydrates you. Also, alcohol gets in the inner ear and confuses your balance systems (which is why the world spins if you drink too much), since you probably already have inflammation around there, alcohol's effects are probably amplified a bit. Drink plenty of water, get some rest and give yourself a bit of time to recover. Flu is a disease of inflammation, so your standard pain-killers aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen should help a lot.

(As is traditional, I'm going to add the usual disclaimer - I'm not a doctor. I'm just some random internet person with opinions).
posted by xchmp at 4:58 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Peroxide in your ears is harmless as a way to dry out water or soften wax, but there is no access to the eustachian tubes from the outside unless you have tubes in your ears or a perfed eardrum, like xchmp pointed out. Here's a diagram.

It is disputed whether Zicam can cause you to lose your sense of smell.

Here's a source for the Vitamin C and the common cold. In short, if you take it every day, it could shorten the length of your cold by 8%. Not worth yearlong dosing, according to the study. "When taken after a cold starts, vitamin C supplements do not make a cold shorter or less severe." Overdosing on anything can be dangerous.

Elderberry - at best, human studies are limited. It can also act as a diuretic, which could be a bad thing if you have trouble keeping anything down.

If the placebo effect works for you, cool... just be aware that none of that stuff is proven and can be dangerous in the wrong situations.

I will, however, go for the steam and for chicken soup (the soup if for no other reason than steam and it's nutritious and gentle on your stomach). Stay hydrated. Gargling with salt water might make your throat feel a bit better, if not disinfect it. If your nasal passages get dried out from excess blowing, which could lead to a nosebleed, try a saline spray like Ocean spray. If you run a fever, take some Tylenol.

If you're not better in a few days, see a different doctor for a 2nd opinion. FluMist most definitely can make you sick.

"What side effects are associated with the nasal-spray flu vaccine (LAIV)?
In children, side effects can include runny nose, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever. In adults, side effects can include runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough. Fever is not a common side effect in adults receiving the nasal-spray flu vaccine."
posted by IndigoRain at 6:09 AM on September 14, 2008

Thanks for all the suggestions, guys. I mostly have an EXTREMELY sore throat, feel achy, and feel like I constantly need to clear something for my chest, so I'm going to lie here, continue to drink Theraflu and tea (with raw honey, what little is left of it in the house), and sleep. The people at work are going to think I'm making stuff up, getting sick twice in two weeks with the same symptoms!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:30 AM on September 14, 2008

xchmp, in the last 22 years I've used those techniques for myself and with friends and it has worked remarkably well.

As it happens my eardrums are perforated due to abscesses as a child, I now realize that's why I could feel the peroxide in my Eustachian tubes.

Peroxide in the ears when it comes to colds or flu is helpful.

Googling the Cochrane Report about Vit C this is what I found it said.

"The failure of vitamin C supplementation to reduce the incidence of colds in the normal population indicates that routine mega-dose prophylaxis is not rationally justified for community use. But evidence suggests that it could be justified in people exposed to brief periods of severe physical exercise or cold environments."

From Linus Pauling -The Last Interview

"There is no doubt now that vitamin C in large doses has value against the common cold. My recommendation is not 1 gram a day, or 2 grams a day of vitamin C but at the first sign of a cold, take a gram of vitamin C or 2 grams and then an hour later, if the symptoms still exist - if you're still sneezing, or your nose is running or feel shivery, take another 1 or 2 grams of vitamin C. Keep doing that until you forget because the symptoms have gone away and this will stop a cold in almost every person who follows the regimen."

Vitamin C plays some role in respiratory defence mechanisms. The trials in which vitamin C was introduced at the onset of colds as therapy did not show any benefit in doses up to 4 grams daily, but one large trial reported equivocal benefit from an 8 gram therapeutic dose at onset of symptoms.

Re Zinc supplementation during a cold
posted by nickyskye at 8:26 AM on September 14, 2008

nickyskye: This is not the place to debate the relevent merits of these things. We disagree and I'm pretty sure neither of us is going to convince the other. However, this is the Cochrane report I was referring to:
We found no evidence to support antioxidant supplements for primary or secondary prevention. Vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E may increase mortality. Future randomised trials could evaluate the potential effects of vitamin C and selenium for primary and secondary prevention. Such trials should be closely monitored for potential harmful effects.
Feel free to mefi mail me if you really want to continue this.
posted by xchmp at 8:50 AM on September 14, 2008

It's also possible that you already had the flu, and getting the vaccine was a coincidence to getting the flu?

Or, you had the beginnings of a cold, and since your nasal passages were already raw and inflamed, allowed the vaccine to "hit" you a bit more than it should?

(How much of your feeling bad was due to the margaritas and how much was due to being sick? I can certainly get a hangover from two of those things, if they were made too strong.)

It's amazing how much confirmation bias there is with vaccines- my mother is an ER nurse, and SWEARS she gets the flu when she gets the flu shot. Never mind that she is in contact with all manner of horrible diseases every day and gets some kind of flu-like disease twice a year regardless. I religiously get the shots, because I figure it's better than nothing- at least I'll be immune to the flu strains in the shot.

And for your own symptoms, this works for me: drink a lot of orange juice and water. If I am coughing, take some cough syrup with guaifenesin and dextromethorphan. The goal should be to be able to cough productively, while at the same time not coughing so much that I irritate my throat. Get the bad stuff out and don't let it get back in.
posted by gjc at 9:41 AM on September 14, 2008

Unicorn on the Cob, I mostly have an EXTREMELY sore throat

For this I've found Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray to be very helpful

xchmp, this is the place to offer what one thinks will help or has experience in helping. I do have solid, repeated, successful experience, over 20 years of it, with the tips I suggested. Most of your first comment was spent trying to negate what I said. Since I did not include links to substantiate what I said I thought might help Unicorn on the Cob, I did so in my second comment.
posted by nickyskye at 9:42 AM on September 14, 2008

gjc, I got the FluMist on Thursday, September 4; I had been working 36 hour shifts and whatnot at work, so I was run down but had no sniffly, cold-like symptoms. I started feeling bad Sunday, September 7. I felt better and had the margaritas now two days ago, September 12.

I can only recall EVER having the flu in my life well over a decade ago, when I was in college, and they were giving out free flu shots (and I was told then it wasn't a dead vaccine but a weakened strain, something like 14 years ago). I have nursed many roommates and loved ones with the flu and myself have never gotten it except for these two instances. Cold, that I don't know about. I am taking the guaifenesin, but orange juice is a big no-no for me. I tried (in vain) to drink some yesterday and had to chase that one glass with an entire bottle of pepto over many hours because my digestive tract doesn't like OJ at all, never has, never will.

Pretty sure I am never getting FluMist again! But I am gonna drink some airborne and try to sleep some more...
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:03 AM on September 14, 2008

Seconding Airborne. Seems to be well tolerated by that commenter with ulcerative colitis.

Another suggestion. Disinfect the house, faucets, keyboard, doorknobs, desk tops using rubbing alcohol on a paper towel so one doesn't reinfect oneself and wash hands after blowing one's nose or coughing into one's hand.
posted by nickyskye at 11:11 AM on September 14, 2008

If a major sore throat is the number one issue, here's what a heavenly doctor told me when I had sudden death strep in college:

800 mg of ibuprofen (4 regular tabs) every six hours. That sounds like a lot, but its the dosage of the old school Rx stuff. It takes down the inflammation better than tylenol, aspirin, or normal doses of advil does. Just be sure not to take it on an empty stomach as it can cause irritation over time (in the stomach, not the bowel).
posted by mostlymartha at 1:49 PM on September 14, 2008

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