Person lying under a blanket on a couch with a box of tissues on top, a thermometer in mouth, a book, a tea mug and a cat.

Understanding flu symptoms from a firsthand perspective

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BY JAN ARRANT

Oh, the achy, sniffling, sneezing, stuffy-head, and fever misery that is the flu. I had never had influenza. Sure, sometimes you have a cold that makes you wonder, Could this be flu? For me, there’s no mistaking the difference anymore.

I woke up on a Sunday morning and could barely get out of bed. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. That was on top of the 100-degree fever; runny, drippy nose; splitting headache that felt like a migraine; and barklike cough that made my skin tingle.

I thought that I might have bronchitis, but was quite surprised when the doctor said, “You have influenza A.”

Before you ask, the answer is yes, I had my flu shot at the start of flu season in October. The effectiveness of the flu shot varies from year to year, because there are multiple strains of the flu that spread each season, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Last year’s flu shot was one of the least effective we’ve ever had, with the highest U.S. influenza death toll in 40 years.

When you put that into perspective, my few days of misery are certainly not worth whining about. And my case was caught early enough for me to be prescribed the antiviral medication known as oseltamivir, sold under the brand name Tamiflu as well as in a generic version. (Yep, I’m cheap. I got the generic.) This medicine is supposed to shorten the duration and perhaps lessen the effects of the flu. Since this was my first time having the flu, I have no comparison — but frankly, I don’t ever want one.

Getting frank about flu testing

I also had the rapid flu test, which is a most unpleasant. They put a long swab up your nose that burns like mad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says such rapid flu tests have a sensitivity range of 50 to 70 percent. That means that in up to half of influenza cases, the swab will be negative. By those odds, physicians using the rapid test as a basis for diagnosis might as well flip a coin.

So what does this mean for you? First, you should still have the flu test done if your doctor recommends it. However, don’t be shy if your test comes back negative and you still think you have the flu. Ask for the anti-viral medication or at least talk with your physician about it. Stopping flu in its tracks helps prevent you from becoming more ill and spreading the virus to others.

Of course the best thing to do is to prevent the flu. You can do that by getting your flu shot, avoiding people like me who are sick, and wash your hands often with soap and water. Also, don’t touch your face. My own personal advice: Do not touch door knobs, handles of any sort, or elevator buttons. This is why God gave you elbows and sleeves.

On the mend

January 2019 was a rough one for me. It started out on New Year’s Eve with a sinus and ear infection. I got over that and promptly got a cold. I had just recovered from the cold when I got the flu. All of these illnesses hit me after the weekend. I hope no one took offense when I turned plans for the next month — it took that long to feel myself again. And you can bet I’ll be doing everything I can to steer clear of the virus next time flu season comes around.

Feel sick, but don’t want to leave the house? The providers at Methodist Family Health Centers and Medical Groups are now available 7 days a week for fast, convenient care for more than 25 common conditions, including the flu. It’s care when and where you need it. 

About the author

Director of Community and Public Relations Jan Arrant climbs a rock in exercise clothes.As the Director of Community and Public Relations, Jan Arrant loves to tell the stories of the great successes at Methodist Richardson Medical Center. She joined Methodist in 2015, after a 29-year career in TV journalism.

The driving force for her has always been to do just one thing – make a difference. For many years, that involved giving viewers information they needed to make decisions about their daily life. After transitioning to healthcare, Jan has found her life motto still applies; only now, it’s giving people information they need to make decisions about their health and wellness.

Jan is very involved in the community and serves on the Richardson and Wylie Chamber of Commerce board of directors. She is also active in Leadership Richardson.

Jan’s a native Texan, but Colorado is near and dear to her heart. If she’s not planning her next trip there, she probably just got back. She loves the John Muir quote, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

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