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what is the difference between flu and flu-like illnesses?

Can You Tell the Difference Between Flu and Flu-Like Illnesses?

“What is the difference between a cold and flu? Flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu? Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can tell if a person has the flu.”From the CDC’s website (Cold Versus Flu)

A recent article by Erin Corbett was published in Fortune which asked a common question via its title; Can You Get the Flu From a Flu Shot? Experts Weigh In.  After polling a variety of experts from the CDC, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, and other elite institutions (unfortunately, THEY DIDN’T ASK ME), the answer was a resounding “No, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness.”  There was, however, according to Mayo Clinic, a caveat — caveat created by something known as “flu-like” or flu-like illnesses.

“Because the flu shot contains inactivated viruses—or only uses a single gene from a flu virus— it’s not possible to get the flu from the shot, according to the agency. If people experience flu-like symptoms after getting the shot, it’s possible that the shot didn’t work, or that you didn’t get the shot early enough.

Similarly, flu-like illnesses or symptoms are not the actual flu.  Some people can develop flu-like symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, due to a reaction caused by your body producing protective antibodies… or from mismatched flu viruses—the annual shot may not contain the strain of flu virus you have been exposed to.”

OK; people can’t catch the flu from the flu shot, but they are coming down with something, and that something has been labeled “flu-like illness”.  My question (without revealing to you that a ‘MATCHED YEAR‘ — a year when all three viral strains in the vaccine match the most commonly circulating virus — occurs less than once per decade) is what’s the difference? 

In other words, does it matter whether I call it flu or flu-like illness and is there any difference in the symptoms or the treatment?   Why do I ask?  Over the past three decades I cannot begin to tell you how many patients have revealed that after dutifully getting their flu shot they came down with the worst case of the flu ever (see link at top).  So, in similar fashion to Corbett’s article, let’s see what sorts of answers I come up with using a quick Google search.

Of course, Google’s top-of-the-list article came from the pinnacle of medical truth and knowledge, WebMD.  After telling us how important this distinction is via the title (Is It Flu, Or Flu-Like? The Difference Matters) the author, one Jennifer Clopton, inadvertently revealed the schizophrenia surrounding this issue in yet another cherry-picked tid bit.

“The flu is diagnosed from a swab test of your nose or throat. Flu-like illness is a clinical diagnosis, meaning it doesn’t involve an official test.  A doctor simply decides by examining you. Flu-like illness can be the diagnosis when doctors aren’t sure what virus is at play since signs and symptoms of bad colds and several other respiratory viruses can be difficult to distinguish from the flu. 

‘Flu-like illness can include other respiratory viruses that could make people feel that way — common cold viruses, RSV, parainfluenza, even rhinovirus — the most common cause of the common cold,’ says Angela Campbell, MD, a medical officer in the CDC’s Flu Division in Atlanta. ‘All can cause symptoms similar to the flu.'”

What about getting that swab that was mentioned above?  The medical expert that was quoted for this article, an infectious disease specialist of some renowned (William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University), said it doesn’t really matter, referring to the tests as both “expensive and unreliable.” 

What about treatment?  Other than recommending antivirals — but only if you have flu (odd, considering that flu-like illnesses are virtually all caused by viruses as well) such as drugs that have been proven to have efficacies bordering 10% (TAMIFLU is top dog, but XOFLUZA is the equally as ineffective new kid on the block — Relenza is a second fiddle to Tamiflu) — treatment recommendations for both were identical; bed rest, fluids, ACETAMINOPHEN, etc, etc. 

So, how does any of this prove the premise of her title — that there is some sort of tangible difference between flu and flu-like that matters even a little bit?  That’s just it, it doesn’t.  The problem is, every single article I looked at (I browsed dozens) showed varying degrees of the same schizophrenic thought process.

Very Well Health ran an MD-reviewed article in April by an RN (Kristina Duda) titled What Exactly Is a Flu-Like Illness?  She answers herself thusly…

The real “flu” is only caused by the influenza virus. It can be caused by influenza A or B. However, there are many, many illnesses that cause symptoms similar to those of the flu.  There are no vaccines or medications that can prevent general flu-like illnesses. Although getting a flu vaccine will help you avoid influenza, you can still get other flu-like illnesses.” 

She goes on to say that the antivirals work for flu but not for flu-like illnesses — a totally false statement on all fronts (antivirials don’t work well in the first place, and work equally poorly on the many viruses that cause flu-like illness).  Her article goes on to make this ‘important’ conclusion…..

“Many people get sick with flu-like illnesses every year and mistakenly “diagnose” themselves with the flu. Often, these people will then go on to assume that flu vaccines don’t work because they still got the flu when in reality they don’t have the flu at all, only a “flu-like illness”. While it may seem silly to try to differentiate between the two since they can have very similar symptoms, it is important to understand the differences.”

An article from the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health by Dr. Jonathan Temte is no better. 

Unfortunately there’s a lot of misuse of words out there, which can lead to confusion.  Flu is often used as a generalized term that stands for influenza but is also used to describe colds and even the stomach flu – which is totally different.  There are many viruses that are contagious and cause similar symptoms to influenza. The only way to know for sure whether someone with symptoms has influenza or a flu-like illness is to perform a laboratory test to confirm it. 

To someone suffering from body aches and a sore throat, the distinction between flu or flu-like probably doesn’t matter as much – they feel lousy either way. But the subtle difference can lead to some erroneous beliefs, like the influenza vaccine causes the flu.” 

Although there are literally hundreds of similar articles on the world-wide web, they are virtually all the same.  Schizophrenic.  Maybe I’m not being completely truthful in this assessment.  After looking at scores of similar articles I would argue that in most cases they were subtle advertisements for FLU VACCINES and the antivirals mentioned earlier (always with the admonition that they must be started within 48 hours of the start of symptoms), which, unknown to the general public, will shorten a week-long flu by a whopping half a day (see earlier links). 

Furthermore, unless you are deathly sick, going to the doctor is not likely to prove fruitful as far as flu / flu-like symptoms are concerned.  This is because the treatment, other than the fore-mentioned antivirals, is exactly the same no matter which version of thousands of circulating virus caused the problem (not to mention the fact that YOUR DOCTOR HIMSELF IS NOT UNLIKELY TO PASS YOU THE FLU). 

In review…..

  • The symptoms for flu and and flu-like illnesses are virtually identical; so much so that according to the heaviest of the heavy hitters (for instance, the CDC) they cannot be differentiated without testing.
  • Testing is expensive and notoriously inaccurate and doesn’t really matter anyway because…
  • Whether you have influenza or influenza-like, it’s treated the same way.
  • The gist of most of these articles (flu -vs- flu-like) is to push antivirals and promote vaccination — both approaches being so pathetically ineffective at preventing either flu or flu-like that I suggest you read the short commentary on the subject by my brother, a practicing medical doctor with two decades of experience in family medicine and ER, DR. KEVIN SCHIERLING.
  • Flu-related (or flu-like related) schizophrenia is so common that it must be considered the norm within both the practicing and scientific the medical communities.  Unfortunately, there is little practical flu-related truth coming from the mainstream propaganda machine.  In fact, THESE POSTS prove that you better take everything related to biomedical sciences with a grain of salt.

If you like our site, be sure to like, share or follow on FACEBOOK as it’s a fantastic way to reach the people you love and care about most with valuable health-related information.  And if you are one of the millions of people world-wide struggling with inflammation-related chronic illness or chronic pain, realize that there are some very cool, very simple, and very effective methods of reducing the underlying systemic inflammation (HERE), and thereby helping yourself.  After all, where have the meds gotten you so far?


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