Timorous wee beasties. Not. Annual cold and ‘flu on behalf of my beleaguered respiratory system.

We sincerely thank everyone who gets vaccinated for the ‘flu and who doesn’t cough their cold viruses at us. Tissues at the ready, if you please.

Morning all. I couldn’t sleep so I got up. I have to leave to catch the bus in 75 minutes to get to uni for the day. I’ve got my first assignment to hand in and I need to hand in my financial assistance request form. I’m also coughing nicely. It’s this cold, it won’t go away. I also had my flu jab last Friday; the swelling on my arm has finally gone down.

Talking of colds and flu, I think it’s time I wrote something about them. They are two different beasts, although both are viruses. One can be vaccinated against but the other can’t. I shall explain why.

The common cold is caused by a variety of viruses, mostly rhinoviruses, and it evolves quickly, even within the body. I can catch a cold from one person and by the time I cough up a few virus particles, it’s a different creature.

A rhinovirus, as seen under a microscope

The best thing about the common cold is it won’t kill you, unless you are severely immunocompromised, even if you do feel grotty for a few days. It comes on gradually and mainly affects the nose and throat. Paracetamol and fluids is the best thing you can do to recover, presuming you are already in reasonably good health. Sunlight, if you can get it, and a decent balanced diet, will help keep your immune system working decently. Vitamin D, rather than vitamin C, is the key to helping you keep colds to a minimum, although there’s little point getting supplements unless you are severely deficient – which is something a doctor will tell you. Wash your hands regularly and catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue.

Now, the ‘flu is cause by the influenza virus; it’s a different creature all together and a lot more serious. Let’s start with what it is not: ‘flu is not a bad cold, it’s not ‘stomach flu’ -that’s a stomach bug causing vomiting and general digestive distress, and it’s not related to the HiB bacteria which has influenza as part of it’s name. That’s an historical artifact of naming conventions and very confusing. HiB is a bacteria that can make children poorly and is vaccinated against in childhood vaccines.

A video about ‘flu from WHO

What is the ‘flu?

Simple answer: hell in virus form.

Complex answer: The Influenza virus is a virus (obviously) that settles in the respiratory tact and can be deadly. It can be found in humans, pigs and birds. The proteins on the surface differ with each strain and every year a new strain is dominant.

Each year the WHO make recommendations as to which strains to include in the vaccine. Usually there are three or four strains in the vaccine. If you fall in to one of the categories likely to have complications from catching the flu you should get vaccinated. Even if you get a slightly different strain the vaccine will attenuate the infection because your body already has some idea of the proteins to look out for. You also need to get a new vaccine each year because the strains change and evolve each year, not as quickly as the common cold, but quickly enough that it’ll be a different combination each year.

I had flu in late January/early February 2015 and spent months recovering, partly because I got a secondary infection – bronchitis – which knocked me back as I was recovering from the fever, coughing, muscle aches and generally wanting to die that is the flu. Breathing difficulties lasted three months. Luckily I wasn’t hospitalized, but people are and people die from the ‘flu and its complications.

The vaccine is the best way to avoid infection in the first place, but if you do get ‘flu bed rest and fluids are the best way to recover. Take analgesics as necessary. Unless you are having severe respiratory problems, in which case get to the hospital, there’s little a GP can do for a viral infection. They certainly won’t give you antibiotics and you’ll risk infecting those who can’t be vaccinated,like very young babies and those who have an allergic response to the vaccine. However, if you have worsening symptoms, or haven’t started to recover after a week, are getting chest pains, have a suppressed immune system or chronic conditions such as lung disease, you might want to visit your GP.

You cannot get ‘flu from the vaccine, what you can get are ‘flu-like’ symptoms. This is because the vaccine contains no live virus, and many of the symptoms of the influenza virus are actually your body’s response to and defence against the virus. it means your immune system is functioning and producing antibodies in readiness. The best analogy I’ve read is a boxer getting to see videos of an unknown opponent ahead of the fight; instead of learning the opponents technique in the fight and taking some knocks, risking being knocked out all together, the video (vaccine) allows the boxer to learn the opponents’ (flu virus’) technique ahead of the fight and give the boxer (your immune system) a better chance of defeating the opponent and much quicker.

If you get the flu the symptoms come on quickly and effect the whole body, and as I said above, are partly the result of the immune response. The coughing and mucus is the body’s way of collecting and expelling the virus from your respiratory system, the fever is the body heating you up enough to denature the virus  and allow the antibodies to do their job. It’s crappy but the most virulent and infection is the harder the body has to fight and the worse you feel. During the fight the body needs a good balanced diet providing all the nutrients and plenty of fluids so you don’t get dehydrated. Antivirals are now available for the ‘flu but influenza can develop resistance, and from what I’ve heard (anecdotal evidence of course) sometimes the antivirals are as bad as the virus.

I recommend consulting the NHS website for further information. I am not a doctor, just someone who has to live with constant respiratory infections and doesn’t want people to suffer.

Also, garlic won’t cure your infection, although there is some evidence that the suphur-containing compounds in it and other members of the onion family can help fight bacterial infections. An as far as I know turmeric is nothing but a tasty spice.


And now I must go, I have to catch a but in half anhour.It better be on time today.


One thought on “Timorous wee beasties. Not. Annual cold and ‘flu on behalf of my beleaguered respiratory system.

  1. A few years back I had to suffer through a case of swine flu. Worst two weeks of my life. Even though I know a standard flu shot wouldn’t have helped me in that case, I now know better than to skip a vaccination.

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