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The Flu: How To Recognize It and What to Do

It’s here, folks, and this year could be a doozy. How do we know? We keep a watchful eye on Australia, whose winter and flu season occur six months before our own. The New York Times reported that “In 2017, a terrible flu season in Australia presaged an American outbreak in which 79,000 died. Experts advise getting the shot soon.” More here.

You may have had the flu in the past but let’s go over the symptoms again. Patients always ask “How do I know this isn’t a cold?” For clarification, take a look at this chart:

                       COLD                                    FLU

Onset               slow                                        very fast

Fever               rare                                          3 to 4 days, usually over 100 degrees

Aching            none                                        widespread

Chills              rare                                          yes

Fatigue            no                                            severe

Sneezing         yes                                           rare

Cough             yes                                           sometimes, described as “hacking”

Stuffiness        yes                                           not much

Sore throat      yes                                           sometimes

Headache        no                                            yes

Responds to    no                                            no

Responds to    no                                            yes—they shorten severity and length of illness.

Flu starts with the very non-specific sensation “I think I might be coming down with something” and in a matter of hours you know something’s wrong. Then it occurs to you, “Oh yeah, it’s flu season.” And you remember people calling in sick at work and you think “Uh-oh, this is going to get worse.” It usually does.

If you’re feeling a minor wave of guilt for not getting a flu shot, know that so far this year’s immunization formula seems to be effective in about one third of flu cases. Translate this as “not totally preventive, but better than nothing,” which is considered a successful vaccine program.

It also means that despite immunization you can still get the flu. However, it will likely be milder than what your non-vaccinated friends are experiencing. At especially high risk for flu complications (mainly pneumonia) are people over 65, people with asthma and heart disease, pregnant women, and those who are obese.

What to do if you’re coming down with the flu
Remember, January and February are the big flu months. Take these steps if you feel the flu coming on and consider forwarding this to your friends and family.

–If you have some early flu symptoms, call your doctor and ask her to phone in a prescription for Tamiflu (75 mg twice daily for five days). It won’t work as an immediate cure, but will shorten the duration of your flu by two to three days. You need to start taking Tamiflu within the first 48 hours of symptoms or don’t bother with it. WholeHealth Chicago patients can contact any of us through the Portal, sending your pharmacy’s name, address, and zip code. Your account will be charged $25 for this service. Insurance should cover the Tamiflu, but whether or not it does never pay more than $35 (use a goodrx coupon).
–Although many doctors prescribe Tamiflu based on their clinical diagnosis (rather than lab tests), some want you to have a rapid influenza diagnostic test, which gives a result in about 15 minutes. However, it’s not a perfect test, and a negative test should not preclude antiviral therapy in an obvious sufferer.
–Take Aleve (Naproxen) for muscle aches and headache (one every 12 hours).
–Rest and drink copious fluids. Call in sick to avoid infecting others.
–If you want to start with a natural treatment, get Oscillococcinium, a homeopathic remedy, from our apothecary or any health food store. You can use it along with Tamiflu. If you’re in the area, stop by for free samples. The Boiron people sent us a caseful.
–It also might be a good idea to call and schedule a Myers’ Cocktail. This is an intravenous “push” of vitamins and minerals and has been around for decades as a natural antiviral and immune booster. You can read about Myers’ cocktails here.
–Pick up a nice selection of herbal teas and sip them throughout the day. Create your own blends or drink them straight. Elderberry, Echinacea, goldenseal, ginger, and eucalyptus all provide relief.
–While you’re near the stove making tea, heat up some chicken soup. It’s been proven beyond doubt to have viral-killing properties.

Avoiding and preventing the flu
I knew flu season was in full swing one year when I was at Orchestra Hall, listening to Mozart’s Concerto for Cello…and 50 Rude Hackers. From my seat, I could see the conductor flinch with every barking cough. Most patrons coughed politely into the crook of an arm or into a tissue, but many did not. If you find yourself in a comparable room full of virus-spewers, you might just want to leave. Also, don’t shake hands with anyone who coughs into theirs.

Wash your hands frequently. After using the toilet (of course), but also before food preparation and especially after pushing a grocery cart, opening doors not your own, and shaking hands.

If people at work are calling in sick with the flu or your partner arrives home looking like he/she’s been pounding at death’s door, moaning “I think I have the flu,” remember if it’s within the first 48 hours to call the doctor for a Tamiflu prescription.

Get one for yourself, too, as a preventive step. To prevent flu, the Tamiflu dose is different: take one daily for ten days. This is especially important if your partner has the flu. Don’t suffer needlessly!

Also, read this piece about taking high doses of vitamin C as a virus preventer.

Take 1000 mg every hour for six hours, then 1000 mg three times daily.

Is it too late for a flu shot?
Many patients who come to WholeHealth Chicago–as well as a lot of our staff–do not get flu shots. So far, they’ve emerged from annual flu seasons pretty much unscathed, likely because we’ve probably got the healthiest practice and staff in the Midwest. (Healthy eating, regular exercise, and nutritional supplements pay off in multiples.)

Vaccine-wise, I’m the exception. Years and years ago, I was down with flu for one solid month and decided back then I’d do everything possible to prevent a recurrence.

Flu season peaks from December to February, but has been known to last as long as May. If you took a flu shot today, within a week you’d start having at least some protection.

It’s up to you.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment

  1. Jayne Wagner says:

    When I came down with the flu a few years ago, I took tamiflu and it caused me to break out into a rash that scabbed over and stayed with me for quite a while. It’s a side effect. My husband took tamiflu and did catch flu from me, but it was much milder. I’m a healthy active person, but completely understand why people die from the flu. It’s encouraged me to get a flu shot every year since.

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Far and away, the commonest phone call/e mail I receive asks about COVID-19 diagnosis.
Just print this out, tape it on your refrigerator door, and stay calm.


• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Red, swollen eyes
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Tickly throat
• No fever

• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Sore throat
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild dry cough
• Rarely a low fever

• Painful sore throat
• Hurts to swallow
• Swollen glands in neck
• Fever

FLU (Standard seasonal flu)
• Fever
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Sudden onset over few hours
• Headache
• Sore throat
• Fatigue, sometimes quite severe
• Muscle aches, sometimes quite severe
• Rarely, diarrhea

• Shortness of breath
• Fever (usually above 100 degrees)
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Slow onset (2-14 days)
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild fatigue
• Mild sneezing

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