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"Flu" Confusion

There is much confusion surrounding the word “flu”. Many incorrectly use the word “flu” to refer to nonspecific viral winter time illnesses, including colds and stomach viruses. In medical jargon speak, “flu” means “influenza” and nothing else.

A result of this confusion is that many people mistakenly believe that “flu shots” protect against more than just influenza, which is not the case.

Common cold viruses are not the same as influenza viruses, although they share many of the same symptoms.

Common colds usually consist of mild symptoms, including:

  • congestion
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • fever

Influenza can cause these symptoms and more. Influenza more commonly causes:

  • high fever
  • intense intense body aches and pain (myalgias)
  • runny nose and/or congestion
  • rarely nausea and vomiting
  • in addition to cough and sore throat.

the difference between a flu and influenzaWhile most common colds are self limited, and usually do not progress to more serious infection, influenza can, in some cases lead to pneumonia and serious respiratory compromise, as well as severe dehydration and even death in a small, but significant, percentage of cases.

Influenza is highly contagious. It is spread by respiratory droplets either by inhaling or through direct mucosal contact with droplets, for example hand to mouth.

***A person may become contagious 24-48 hours prior to becoming ill with symptoms, so that you can spread it to others well before you realize that you have the illness.

A average of about 36,000 deaths nationwide each year are attributed to influenza, although this figure is debated. This number varies each season based upon the behavior of prevailing virus types.

The worst season on record was the 1918 “Spanish Flu” epidemic which killed 20-50 million people worldwide or an estimated 3% of the world’s population.

Next: Flu shot? or Not?