Just flu are you?
January 11, 2013 9:09 AM   Subscribe

YANMDoctor. What are the chances that this recent illness was actually the flu?

Jumping on the well-populated bandwagon of flu-related-questions around here lately: My daughter and I just got through some sort of mystery serious upper-respiratory thing. I'm wondering whether anyone can shed some light on whether this was, indeed, The Flu, or if that trial is potentially still ahead of us. Here are the tedious details:

DAUGHTER (preschool-aged): on return to daycare after Christmas break, the caregiver copped to having just recovered from a 6-day bout of what she called "the flu." Sounded convincing-- 104-degree fever, prostration, severe cough, etc. The next day, we got Daughter the flu shot (horse, barn door and all that).

Two days later, Daughter suddenly (like within 2 hours) breaks a 102.5-degree fever. Over the next five days, continual fever (controlled with meds, but gets up to the 101s), complete exhaustion, aches, malaise, extremely runny nose and sneezing, but no coughing. On sixth day, illness departs as suddenly as it came.

ME: Two days after onset of Daughter's illness, start nasal irritation and extremely runny nose. Within three hours, 101-ish fever. Fever carefully controlled with acetaminophen, but tends to drift up into 101s otherwise. Some fatigue, aches/chills, very runny nose, no coughing. Illness lasts a little over two days, then ends suddenly. My first and only flu vaccine was four years ago; I've had nasty feverish colds since then but nothing obviously identifiable as the flu. Not sure I've ever had the flu, in fact.

HUSBAND: Had the flu shot in November. Despite spending the week cheek-by-jowl with our sneezy, tissue-dropping kid, hasn't gotten ill at all.

Obviously, points in favor of this being the flu are the apparent immunity of vaccinated Husband, the medium-high fevers (aren't you not supposed to get bad fevers at all with colds?), the severity of the original caregiver's illness, and the sudden onset in all cases. On the other hand, there's the absence of any coughing at all, the fact that mine pretty definitively started in my nose, and the mysterious mildness of the illness in my case, when by rights I really shouldn't have even a shred of flu immunity to stand on. Also the fact that people on MeFi have been saying things like, "If you're just hoping not to die, that's how you know it's the flu," and nothing any of us experienced really sounds as bad as all that.

WHY IT MATTERS: with the flu at epidemic levels where we live, I'd like to have some sense of whether I still need to be ultra-paranoid about avoiding public places/other people, or if cross-strain resistance will give us some measure of protection.

Also, I'm pregnant (first trimester), have been enjoying reviewing research like this, and would like to know whether I'll need to spend the next 42 months freaking out about the specifically influenza-related bump to autism risks, or merely the more generic one associated with all maternal febrile infections. My OB will let me get the vaccine next month, once I'm out of the first trimester, and it'd also be worthwhile knowing if that's something to push for or not.

So, what say you, Metafilter? Was it the flu, or not the flu?
posted by Bardolph to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
It doesn't sound like you had the flu. I caught the flu a year ago and I was seriously sick for about a week - aching everything, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, fever, the sweats.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

everyone in our house got flu shots. 2 weeks ago: one kid woke with fever (103), by noon doc confirmed flu, and second kid spiked by then. Both fevers broke by bed time the next day (loooong naps, lots of motrin). Kids continued to cough and runny nose for a week, but no more fever. Adults and baby got sniffles/sinus/post-nasal, no fever. Fever is the differentiator, to me, of flu vs cold.

So, yeah, sounds like it. But there are several variants going around, so maybe you all got the dominant B strain, but A strains are still going around etc.
posted by k5.user at 9:27 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

IANAD, and I have also never had the flu.

But I literally just this morning heard a snip of New York's public health advocate on the radio urging everyone to get a flu shot - and he added that there are some cases where people who get a flu shot do still technically get the flu, but it is a much milder and shorter case of the flu. So it's....possible that the flu whipped through your house after all, but your daughter's vaccination made it a milder case.

But as for the vaccination question - that's something to talk over with your doctor, as your doctor has much more familiarity with your own unique medical history and how you uniquely work. The "get the flu shot" advisories are pitched towards the general public, and what is best for you in the specific is something you and your doctor need to figure out together.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 AM on January 11, 2013

I don't think it was the flu. When you get it, you know it, because it hits hard and long. Two days of feeling horrible doesn't sound like the flu; sounds like you and your daughter caught a bug.

When I was 22 and healthy as a horse I got the flu. Knocked me on my ass for two *weeks*.
posted by Specklet at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2013

That's flu; I use fever as the differentiator too and that's on medical advice. There are mild flus.

(this one plenty of my friends had as well; coughs varied between people, location in nasal passages definitely a thing, sudden disappearance too. Mine was medium-mild and some people definitely in equally close contact with the virus didn't get it at all - immunity is weird.)
posted by lokta at 9:59 AM on January 11, 2013

When scientists correctly predict the strains of influenza that will be prevalent in the upcoming season, the effectiveness of the shot is about 60% (and this year's flu shot correctly reflects this season's strains). I just heard this stat this morning on the news.

All this being said, there are many illnesses other than influenza that will give you fevers. So, it's hard to tell whether you experienced the flu or merely some other virus.

With young children it's hard to protect them from illness because they simply aren't capable of taking preventive measures (well, I hate to say it, but it's the same with many adults). But for most of us it's easy. Here are the simple steps I take: I never touch my fingers to my face. Never. Your hands touch all sorts of bad stuff (especially, if, like me, you take public transportation). I even have a system worked out for when I'm at a reception: shake hands with my right hand, eat with my left.

Also, train your children to cough and sneeze into their elbow. I can't believe adults who make a fist and cough into that. Totally worthless.

I don't like getting sick. And I have, what I call, healthy paranoia. I'm not adverse to shaking hands or other germaphobic things. I just realize I'm taking the best precautions I can. It doesn't mean I will escape illness. But I just want to do what I can to keep it away.

Bottom line: do what you can to prevent illness and instill good habits in your children. Oh, and if a teacher at daycare came to work sick, you should speak to the head of the daycare. Geez, considering how quickly things can spread in daycare, they should be extra careful. I know when my children were young, their daycare cleaned toys, et. al. everyday.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2013

Sounds like a mild flu to me. I've said the thing about hoping not to die = flu. That's true sometimes but I'll admit it's a bit of hyperbole meant simply as a comparison to a cold. The point is that flu is much worse than a cold, even a mild flu. But you don't necessarily literally do nothing but lie on the floor hoping not to die.
posted by Justinian at 10:08 AM on January 11, 2013

and it'd also be worthwhile knowing if that's something to push for or not.

Is there any particular reason you wouldn't want to get vaccinated? It is very much recommended for pregnant women. That said, in a month there will be little point to getting vaccinated as it takes a couple weeks to become most effective and flu season will be almost over by then. The time to get vaccinated was two or three months ago.
posted by Justinian at 10:10 AM on January 11, 2013

Here's the most second most important point: There is no way to know unless confirmed in a lab (for example, there are other viruses going around like norovirus), so any other answers you get here are pretty pointless because they are speculative. But could you explain why it matters to you whether it was the flu? Are you wondering whether you made a mistake not getting yourself and your daughter vaccinated? Here's the most important point: You should always get a flu vaccine, every year (and as early in the season as possible - I think this year they were available quite early, like September or so), unless there is a compelling medical reason not to. Children die from flu. They don't even need to get a shot, all they need is nasal spray vaccine, which is 100% painless. I can't think of too many things in life that have such big bang for the buck so to speak (if there were a AskMeFi question about what things give the biggest bang for the buck in life, I would list flu shots among them!).
posted by Dansaman at 10:27 AM on January 11, 2013

Probably the flu. I had strain B (pretty sure its the first time i had the flu) last week and I had a fever, major aches. Only had a stuffy nose for one day. This lasted 5 days or so.
My boyfriend is going on week 2. I think it depends on your body and strain on how bad it affects you.
posted by KogeLiz at 10:27 AM on January 11, 2013

You don't need to know whether or not this was the flu to answer both of your questions (it was a "viral upper respiratory infection" or "influenza like illness", let's leave it at that).

1. No, you don't need to spend the rest of your pregnancy freaking out about autism risks. That research is very controversial. Nothing will come out of worrying about it except unnecessary stress.

2. You probably should get the flu shot! I am a doctor but not your doctor, so I can't speak directly to your case, but generally, the flu shot is recommended for pregnant people in particular who have higher risk of severe infection if they do get the flu and also are obviously about to spend time around a newborn baby. For the same reason, there is a new recommendation that all pregnant women get a pertussis booster (TdaP) regardless of their vaccination history. You may want to bring this up with your doctor because it's a very new recommendation. It's now recommended because there is so much pertussis going around these days from people not getting their kids vaccinated.... sad to say. Since newborns can't get the pertussis vaccine we have to protect them through maternal immunity.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:15 PM on January 11, 2013

« Older When you got everything, you got everything to...   |   Is my mother potentially complicit in fraud? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.