Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Myth busted: Influenza does not cause nausea!

So, my daughter has been vomiting any food intake the past couple days. One evening I said -- jokingly -- to my wife, "She's probably got that swine flu thing. You know: H1N1."

My wife, wise as wives are, corrected my fallacious statement. She said: "I think that most people get influenza and gastroenteritis mixed up. Influenza is an infection of the lungs, and the stomach flu is what causes nausea and vomiting.

"In fact," she continued, "I think most people who get the flu shot and complain that they got the flu anyway definitely don't know the difference. Because the flu shot you get every year does not prevent the stomach flu (gastroenteritis), it prevents you from getting influenza."

According to HealthCentral.com:

"Influenza, usually known as the flu, is a respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. The infection typically is spread by air or by direct contact, from one person to another. Most cases occur during epidemics, which peak during the winter months nearly every year. Influenza virus is very contagious. A particularly widespread and severe epidemic is called a pandemic...

"With many other types of infections - for example, mumps - having the disease once protects against a second infection because the body's immune system 'remembers' the returning virus, attacks it immediately and rapidly eliminates it. With influenza, the virus usually has mutated (changed) somewhat since the first infection, but the change is enough to fool our immune system. Instead of attacking the virus rapidly, as it would a virus that it had seen before, the immune system responds slowly. By the time the immune response is in full gear, millions of the body's cells already have been infected with the virus."

It is because the flu virus mutates that you need to get a flu vaccination each year, rather than just once. Each year the vaccination is adjusted to prevent against the current "mutated" strain.

Symptoms of influenza are as follows:

  • Chills
  • Moderate to high fever (101° to 103° Fahrenheit)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness

As I was perusing the web looking for some information on the stomach flu, I came across a neat article at HealthCentral.com called, "Five Myths about the flu," by David Stanley. He writes that when someone says "I have the flu," and is face to face with him, he knows with relative certainty the person does not have the flu.

He gives the person what he calls the Fast Test, which consists of the following questions:

  • Fever - The flu typically produces a high fever that lasts three to four days. Fever with a cold is rare.
  • Aches and pains - Headache is a trademark of the flu. Other general aches and pains are common as well.
  • Sudden onset - A person can go from feeling perfectly healthy to a full-blown case of the flu in a matter of hours. Cold symptoms tend to develop over days.
  • Tiredness- If you have the flu and make it to the store to ask me about it, you are one tough cookie. Most people with a cold can carry on, but if you have the flu, do what your body is telling you to do and stay in bed.

So, basically, if you have the real flu you are not going to be out and about telling people you have the flu. Oh, and speaking of "real flu", Stanley writes that influenza rarely causes stomach irritation, and therefore there really is no such thing as the "stomach flu." Thus, if you are nauseous, what you actually have is gastroenteritis, which is an infection of the intestine caused by a different type of virus.

As per all the people I work with complaining that they won't get the annual flu shot because it caused them to get the flu, Stanley clears up this myth:

"This simply cannot happen. The flu shot uses a dead form of the virus to trigger an immune response, and that dead virus cannot come back to life and infect you. If you think your flu shot gave you the flu, first apply the FAST test to see if you have it or just caught a cold. If you do indeed have the flu, one of two things happened: You became infected during the one to two weeks it takes for the flu shot to begin to provide protection.You became infected with a version of the virus not covered by this year's vaccine.

The author, David Stanley, writes: "This may sound odd, but if you say this to me face-to-face at the store, you probably don't have the flu. While people can easily confuse a bad cold with the flu, I use what I call the FAST test to tell the difference. There are four questions to ask to distinguish the flu from a cold:

So, since my daughter is walking around all day with no fever, and playing with her toys, it's highly unlikely that she has the flu. Likewise, if you are having bouts of nausea and vomiting, you don't have the flu either.

And once again the wife was right.

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