You Know You Have the Flu When…

IMG_0739This is me getting my annual flu shot. I love getting vaccinations and am so lucky that, as a Canadian, I can pop in to any flu clinic line and get the shot, free of charge. Few people in the world are so lucky.

Despite my love of the flu vaccine, I still ended up spending my holiday season suffering from the flu. How do I know? There are a number of websites, like this Alberta Health site, that outlines all the basic symptoms (and conveniently explains the differences between other common seasonal illnesses that you may contract) but I truly prefer my own personal spin on how you know you have the flu, rather than some other illness:

  • If you find yourself empathising with the deer in the ditch on the side of the highway, you may have the flu.
  • If you are wearing fuzzy, flannel pjs, and are under a duvet, 3 quilts and an afghan while still shivering like you are hanging out in Superman’s fortress of solitude in a sundress, you may have the flu.
  • If you find yourself seriously wondering whether you would feel better or worse if you got hit by a semi-truck, you may have the flu.
  • If you have coughed so much that your significant other is starting to ask “Do you know when you will be done coughing?”, you may have the flu.
  • If you find yourself wondering “where do people get the energy to just get the Hell out of bed because it seems like I am going to have to run a marathon just to reach the bathroom?”, you may have the flu.
  • If your significant other is concerned they will receive 2nd degree burns by touching your forehead, you may have the flu.

I have a love-hate relationship with the flu. I love, from a pathobiology perspective, what a cool virus it is. It evolves every year and manages to kill hundreds of thousands every year. (ok, so that isn’t cool.) It has an interesting history and has shaped humanity immeasurably. I HATE contracting the flu. It is awful. The worst. Honestly, all those points above-feeling like roadkill-that is how that stupid virus makes you feel. I will do whatever it takes to avoid getting the flu, hence why I will get a flu shot, even when they aren’t a 100% guarantee.

Why aren’t flu shots 100% guarantee? When it was announced this year that the flu shot would be less effective, it prompted a ton of rumours, such as it doesn’t work at all, the CDC apologises, etc. Here’s the thing, it isn’t that the flu shot this year isn’t effective. It is very effective, for the strains that it was designed against. Unfortunately, one of the prominent strains that is making its way through the populations was NOT one that the vaccine guarded against. The most common strain this year has been H3N2, but it is not optimally matched to the vaccine strain. Upside: being related to the vaccine strain does mean you get some protection from the vaccine, if not total. I will take this over when, in 2009, I contracted H1N1 and was the most miserably sick I have ever been in my entire life. I have had some terrible illnesses in my time, but nothing, NOTHING, has been worse that my 2009 bought with the flu.

The flu shot is designed months ahead (FYI it costs hundreds of millions of dollars just to produce the shot each year.) and based on strains that are predicted to be the most virulent. Most of the time, we do pretty good at predicting it, but some years, like this year, we are a little off the mark. Also, because of all the different types of flus that go around, you can still get the flu even if you have had the shot. It doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work. It just means you got a strain that wasn’t in the vaccine. But hey, at least you won’t get the strains in the vaccine, so there is an upside.

Anyway, every year you will see me in line for my flu shot, even if some years it means I may still get the flu. I will do anything I can to protect myself from this illness: starting with washing my hands regularly, coughing into my sleeve, and eating all my vegetables. And every fall, you will see me in line, gleefully chatting up the public health nurses while I get my shot. It costs me only a little bit of my time, and compared to the time that being sick takes out of my life, I will take the 30 minutes in the flu clinic. As a Canadian, I am very thankful that I do not have to pay for the vaccine. This is just one of the many reasons we should be thankful for our public health care.

For more cool flu information, check out FluWatch from the Canadian Government.