Wholly Healthy: Dear Lord, Why Did You Make the Flu?

By now you’ve probably heard that it’s a whopper of a flu season. Clinics, urgent cares, doctor’s offices, emergency rooms and hospitals are positively awash in the stuff. As such, I would like to remind my dear readers of a few things.

First, not all cough, fever or cold symptoms are influenza. And generally, vomiting and diarrhea are not the flu either. There are untold numbers of viruses, and why our Creator in His wisdom chose to put them here is still a mystery to me. But if you feel terrible and see your doctor, and he or she says, “It’s a virus, but not the flu,” it’s because we can test for influenza, but we can’t test for most others. It’s kind of a process of elimination. It’s not pneumonia, it’s not strep throat, it’s not influenza, therefore your upper respiratory symptoms are probably some other wretched virus.

Next, if you received an influenza vaccine and developed fever, chills, aches, cough or cold symptoms afterward, they were likely caused by some “viral illness,” as above. I cannot say this enough: The flu vaccine doesn’t give you the flu. Case closed. The flu vaccine isn’t perfect. It’s never perfect. But it’s worth having.

The drug Tamiflu is available for flu. But it is a source of controversy for many physicians, as studies suggest it seems to have limited utility. But some folks feel better faster after taking it. Talk to your doctor about risks and benefits.

Next, if you are told you have a virus but are offered an antibiotic (that is, antibacterial), ask if you really need it. Odds are you don’t. And if your doctor says you don’t need an antibiotic, be happy and move on. Antibiotics are important but also have many grave side effects — from enabling drug resistant infections to causing allergic reactions, from stomach upset to cardiac arrhythmia.

Next, if you feel sick but are breathing well, taking fluids and keeping them in, not passing out or feeling confused, not having significant pain, then avoid large crowds of sick people — the kind you find at urgent cares and ERs. All of those people are potentially carrying infections you really don’t want. This is especially true for newborns, the elderly, and friends and family with immune problems like cancer or HIV.

And if you’re sick, try to stay away from loved ones who fit the criteria above. That’s why we have FaceTime and Skype, texting and telephones. Viruses can’t cross through cell towers, but they can cross the room when you cough.

So wash your hands, stay hydrated, cover your mouth when you cough, get good nutrition and sleep when you’re ill. And if you just feel achy, remember that Tylenol and Motrin are wonderful drugs that cost a lot less than prescriptions.

It may be flu season, but spring isn’t that far away.

And hallelujah to that.