The first week of December is National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), an initiative that aims to raise awareness about the importance of getting your flu shot. Founded by the CDC in 2005, this week serves as a reminder that it’s not too late to get vaccinated, even during the holiday season. If you suffer from chronic pain and flu symptoms, you know it can be challenging to decipher which one you’re facing and how to manage your pain.
There’s a public misnomer that the flu is just a “bad cold,” but that’s actually not true. The flu can lead to health complications and even death, which is especially risky for chronic pain sufferers. 80,000 people in the U.S. died from the flu and its complications last year, the most common being pneumonia. Kim Porter, model and longtime girlfriend of music mogul Sean Combs, died last month after battling “flu-like symptoms and possibly pneumonia.” Her autopsy failed to cite specifics, and her exact cause of death has been “deferred pending additional tests,” but sources close to her have linked her death to the flu-like symptoms she was battling.
When it comes to being hospitalized from flu complications like pneumonia, the numbers are staggering. Out of the 49 million flu illnesses in the 2017-2018 flu season, around 960,000 people were hospitalized. The flu is especially dangerous for high-risk individuals, which the CDC classifies as the elderly, young children and people with weak immune systems.
In honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week, it’s important to to highlight the similarities between chronic pain and flu symptoms. A variety of illnesses are associated with seasonal flu, impacting everyday concerns such as school attendance, worker absenteeism and daily productivity. We must know how to differentiate those symptoms and battle them with a tough and appropriate line of defense.
What is the flu?
Seasonal influenza is a virus that attacks the respiratory system and is highly contagious. A cough or a sneeze can easily spread the virus from one person to another. If you touch the same doorknob or share a drink, you can also spread the illness.
That’s why flu epidemics can force schools and businesses to close: you’re contagious one day before symptoms present themselves, so you don’t even know you’re sick.
Flu symptoms are severe
What differentiates the flu from the common cold or allergies is how fast it hits your immune system. While you may feel a cold come on gradually and worsen, the flu attacks your system quickly.
“The most noticeable difference with the flu is the onset and severity of symptoms,” Dr. Tania Elliott, an allergist and immunologist in New York City, said. “A cold will come on gradually. You may have some aches and congestion, but you’re still going to work…with the flu, it’s like you’re hit by a bus.” A sudden high fever is another sign it might be the flu, not a cold.
Flu symptoms that can be similar to cold symptoms include things like congestion, cough, runny/stuffy nose and a low fever. Severe symptoms that are more aligned with the flu include things like a high fever, headaches, body aches and extreme fatigue. The body aches tend to be the main differentiator from a cold versus the flu.