I've got the flu - what is it really?

I’ve currently come down with the flu. Except it’s not the real, influenza flu; it’s the generic feel-like-shite for a few days that is always called the flu here in the UK. Symptoms are temperature, headache, general ache and lack of energy. Nose and chest are fine, but throat is a bit sore and a little bit congested.

You can alleviate the symptoms with paracetamol preps that are actually labelled ‘cold and flu’ by the manufacturers. It will last about a week IME - 2 days either end where you feel rough but could generally go about your daily business, 2 days where you really need to spend some time lying down and one nadir day where you should probably stay in bed. Fitter folk might throw it off quicker.

I realise that there are a myriad of pathologies that could, in principle, cause the symptoms described above. It might be Siberian Turnip Fever. Nevertheless, is there a main cause of the illness colloquially termed the flu in the UK [e.g. it’s a cold virus]?

Various viruses.

Hundreds of thousands of specific viruses, some of which are serious in even healthy people, most of which enter the body through touch or inhalation. Most of the time treating symptoms represents the only possible medical treatment, although some antivirals are effective in reducing infection dramatically.

The main reason the cold and flu designation is used is that designations like H[sub]6[/sub]N[sub]2[/sub] doesn’t really say much to anyone, and may never be identified in anyone until after its major period of population infection is long over. The famous ones are the very serious ones, and the letter strings become familiar, but really don’t say a lot.

You got a virus. You will probably get over it in a few days, take fluids, rest, and keep your fever down. If you don’t get better, or get worse, see a physician. He won’t know either, but hey, he can give you different drugs.


Probably a rhinovirus or adenovirus.

“Flu” seems to be one of those terms which expands to cover a lot. In America they have something called “stomach flu”, which as far as I can see is just another term for gastroenteritis. It’s not related at all to influenza, and need not even be viral in origin.

Part of what you are feeling may be caused by your own immunological response to the viral infection. Therapies such as Interferon which stimulate the immune system often list “flu-like” side-effects - fever, chills, headache, muscle aches/pains and general malaise.
Your body is sending you a message that it is busy fighting something - slow down.


Not sure what you mean. Since at least 1918, there has not been a “major period of population infection” for anything but H1N1, H2N2, and H3N2. The others are mainly only known in birds, with occasional, very rare bird-to-human transmission.

That fits the description of a headcold to me.

It sounds like a kind of cold virus infection. You have a cold. The problem is that the term “cold” is also applied to very minor ailments like the sniffles, so a real cold virus infection has been upgraded to “the flu,” even though it is not technically an influenza infection.

We routinely try to determine the specific viral aetiologies in patients admitted to hospital with influenza-like illnesses (not that we treat them differently. Still, doing so helps to guide things like need to isolate and provides data for public health authorities).

In any case, in my experience (<= now there’s a cite!), many people with “influenza” turn out to have parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and especially human metapneumovirus.

Last time I was similarly affected, I called it “malaise”. :wink:

there is another explanation, though somewhat rare, it may not be a flu at all, could be a slow gas leak in the house (condo, apatment, etc.). This can cause flu like symptoms.

Other than that, it’s probably just something mild, eat some chicken soup and you’ll be fine in no time. :slight_smile:

Am I right in thinking that there’s fuck-all doctors can do with the proper flu (well, however you define it)? Maybe stopping some secondary stuff? I had the flu when I was a teenager, and wasn’t right for ages afterwards, like months. Had it more recently too, but bounced back a bit quicker. No-one would mistake an influenza for a head cold.

Both cold and influenza are viral. There’s not much you can do for viral infections.

The word is from the middle syllable of influenza “influenza, epidemic,” originally “visitation, influence (of the stars),” from M.L. influentia (see influence). Used in Italian for diseases since at least 1504. So, perhaps your choice of the word is a remnant of the occult and has nothing to do with your disease.

What makes the flu so much worse?

Well, there are antiviral drugs, but they don’t do much good unless you start treatment in the first day or two of infection. In most cases, the average adult with a not-very-serious case of influenza won’t see a doctor right away, if at all. You feel a little sick, wait a day or two as symptoms get worse, call the doctor on day 3, get an appointment on day 5 but you’re starting to feel better and there’s not much point of taking antivirals.

Usually antivirals are given for serious cases or high-risk patients.

If you want to be literary, you could refer to it as a catarrhal cold, as Hercule Poirot did on at least one occasion. Unfortunately, I don’t recall in which book the quote occurs.

You can recite the exact quote, but you don’t know where it’s from?

I heard someone descibe how one feels when having a cold as opposed to the flu. If you had a cold and saw a twenty dollar bill stuck in the tree outside your window you’d get up, go outside and get it. If you had the flu you wouldn’t even think about it.

Havn’t had the flu since '94. That one put in in bed for three straight days.

I have two things - a mind like a steel sieve, and Google. The sieve gave me most of the quote - the Google gave me details that sounded like what I remembered. But Google only coughed up two links and one wouldn’t open. The other was a mess of text.

Digging through the text, now. Huh. This looks like the whole book, in a long ribbon. OK. I’ll take that as difinitive. It’s from Hallowe’en.

I’m assuming something called free-ebookslink.com is only posting public domain books. But they don’t have a statement assuring it, so I didn’t post a link. It’s also posted a bunch of medical books. There might be something about colds, flu, and other viral/non-viral infections.