Flu is short for influenza, which is a whole family of viruses that are found in birds and mammals. Within the family, there are many different strains, and the strains are prone to changing or mutating.
Influenza should not be confused with other viruses, such as those that cause what we all call “the common cold.”
Common cold viruses are usually from the “rhinovirus” family and in general are responsible for causing mild to moderate infections. Influenza is deadly.
Let me say that again — influenza is deadly.
While the symptoms of coughing, fever, sore throat and body aches can start off in a similar manner, the potential difference in how cold virus infections and influenza infections can evolve can be likened to the difference between getting hit in the face by a butterfly versus a baseball bat.
Sadly, popular culture, social networking sites and the media in general portray influenza in a manner that fails to truly communicate the seriousness of the virus. Consequently, it is common for well-meaning people to fall into the trap of what I call the 4 D’s — being Drawn into mis-Diagnosing a Deadly Disease.
First, any disease that has a vaccine is a disease that has killed thousands or can wreak havoc on significant populations of people and is potentially deadly.
Flu shots are vaccines that infectious disease specialists and virologists spend months on formulating based upon vast amounts of highly complex data. They study viral structure, mutation trends and patterns in outbreaks and epidemics.
In other words, they put in a lot of hard work and use contemporary scientific methods to create something that is engineered to protect lives. So please get vaccinated.
Flu season is October through February. It is best to get vaccinated in late September or early October.
Second, only someone with a license to practice medicine should be consulted and entrusted to diagnose influenza. This column, WebMD, Wikipedia, Facebook or your aunt Jenny’s best friend’s mother should not be perceived as safe or adequate resources to diagnose influenza.
Educational information that you read or hear about is just that — information, not advice. I am not saying that information doesn’t play a vital role. However, educational information about influenza is designed only to alert people to the potential for such an infection so that they can immediately consult a licensed health care practitioner.
In my opinion, when it comes to educational information, the Centers for Disease Control has the best information about influenza. The website www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm is especially helpful in covering this very complicated topic and in dispelling the many myths that surround this deadly disease.
Knowing about influenza, its symptoms and its potential complications is important. However, if you suspect that you or a loved one is infected with influenza, please make an appointment to see your licensed medical practitioner immediately. As with any medical problem, the sooner it is diagnosed and a treatment plan is put in place, the better your chances are of recovering quickly and safely.
Richard O’Bryan, a volunteer columnist for the Irrigator, is a nationally board-certified and licensed physician assistant and former Patterson paramedic who practices at the Patterson First Care clinic. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor. Readers can email questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.