flu still life

Flu, Colds & Chronic Illness Considerations

Suddenly your nose starts to run, your throat is a bit scratchy and you may even feel overheated. Do you have the dreaded flu or a cold?

Many people think a fever occurs only with flu, but there is a huge overlap between non-flu viruses and those produce by classic influenza. That said, there are some predictable differences between the two contagious illnesses.

Symptom

Influenza

Common Cold

Other Viral

Onset

Quick, An Hour or Less

Several Days of Increasing Symptoms

Can Be Within Hours

Cough

Dry, Nonproductive

Wet, Produces Mucous

Fever

Yes

yes

Body Aches

Like You Were Run Over by a Truck

Slightly to Moderately Increased

Head Congestion

Some

Severe, Often Sinuses Inflamed

Sore Throat

Some

Often With Swollen Neck Glands

GI—Nausea, Diarrhea, Stomach Ache

No

No

Yes

Just about everyone in the medical community, as well as many bloggers, say it’s crucial everyone get a flu vaccination—preferably before the end of October. The flu shot’s effectiveness can vary from about 50% to 90% depending on how well vaccine manufacturers determined which strain of flu would be most active in the 2018-19 Flu Season.

Experts say that even if the vaccine is only 30-40% effective someone with it will have a quicker and easier time getting over the flu. Another reason frequently discussed is that vaccinations save lives. The rationale is that by vaccinating yourself, you’ll be much less likely to acquire and spread it to at-risk groups.

But say you are one of the millions of people with a compromised immune system. What to do? This was the subject of a recent, very long thread on the subject on a Facebook group I frequent for people with ME/CFS.

By the time the thread closed, there was no clear consensus. People spoke about how many months (usually three to four) they took to recover from flu and swore they would never go without a vaccination again. Others said they were down for three to four weeks with immune system activation after receiving a vaccination for flu.

Personally, I use the Mayo Health System. Inexplicably, Mayo still recommends the discredited results of an infamous research study–graded exercise therapy (GET) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the primary treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome. Sadly, it does not list myalgic encephalomyelitis as a disease or condition.

I have a Masters in Nursing Science and worked as a Nurse Practitioner in South Carolina, Colorado, and Wisconsin before contracting this damn disease (ME/CFS). I do my own research and, since Mayo still clings to outdated and erroneous recommendations based on the highly flawed PACE Trial in the UK, I make up my own mind as far as my own health issues go.

So, as I have done many times in the past when faced with a decision, I wrote out the pros and cons.

FOR FLU VACCINATION (PRO)

AGAINST FLU VACCINATION (CON)

May help hubby, on O2 for COPD, avoid getting the flu

May trigger extended (2-4 wks) immune system reaction

Maybe bedridden for months if I get the flu

I have not had flu since contracting ME, actually not since I was a young woman

Chronically ill with a disease that began with a coxsackievirus infection

I am seldom ill from community-acquired infections, even when I was not homebound

I am chronically ill with a disease that began with a coxsackievirus infection, some specialists believe a subclinical enterovirus infection is at the root of ME

As Leslie Kernisan, MD MPH wrote in response to a question asking if flu vaccination making autoimmune diseases worse, “The CDC and other experts generally recommend that people with autoimmune diseases get the seasonal flu vaccine. This is because people with autoimmune conditions are at higher risk of having flu complications, and it’s estimated that the overall risk of being harmed by the flu is higher than the small risk of developing an autoimmune exacerbation related to the vaccine.

People with autoimmune conditions should not get the live attenuated flu vaccine. (But that one is not recommended in the US this year, anyway.)

I think there are certainly some doctors who believe it’s risky for people with autoimmune issues to get the flu shot. I was not able to find much scientific evidence regarding the risk, however, so I’m not sure we really know what the risk is.

I would recommend you discuss your questions regarding the likely benefits and risks of flu vaccination with your own doctors. You may want to discuss this question with a rheumatologist, as they may have a better understanding of the guidelines and research evidence on this topic.

Good luck!”

I respect Dr. Kernisan and so if she could find no contradictions for a person with a (presumed) autoimmune disease receiving an annual flu vaccination, I can’t argue with it.

I will be doing a 16-day Buddhist practice for my health starting this weekend. Not wanting a possible reaction to immune system triggering from the vaccine during this time of prayers and meditation, I will not get vaccinated until after the retreat finishes on November 5th.

I’ll let you all know if I have any sort of reaction to the vaccination. But what about you? Have you had a reaction to flu shots? Do you get an annual flu vaccination?

  • Great info! I used to contract the flu yearly but still get colds a lot. Another thing that can be confused with a cold is the beginning stages of pneumonia.

    • I am so sorry to hear you have had so many problems with colds and flu, Nicole. 🙁

      When I first start to feel the scratchy throat, stuffy nose symptoms I start popping 1,000 mg of Vitamin C every hour until the symptoms go away. That seems to work for me and my family. Another hack I use is echinacea tincture. Echinacea is a commonly used immune system booster. I think the tincture works faster than capsules. An additional benefit with the tincture is that you can hold it in your mouth for 30-60 seconds so it is absorbed sublingually (using the mouth’s mucous membranes to get the medicine directly into the bloodstream). This technique also works great for those annoying “blisters” that come up on the tongue.

      As for the early stages of pneumonia, I look for a feeling of tightness in the chest, and a rattling and/or a productive cough.

      I hope this helps!

  • Thank you for sharing this great article. 🙂

    I am dead against flu shots or any vaccinations as they actually make you sicker not immune to getting the flu, why are everyone getting sicker and sicker if this is the case.

    I have done my own research and have been listening to one person and he said that his son at the time which was a few years back has had no vaccinations in his life whatsoever and he has not been ill or sick and he is 6 foot and is healthy as ever, whilst all his class mates were getting all different kinds of illnesses.

    There is no money in the cure but in the treatment, keep people sick and the big drug corporations stay in business, it’s just a shame that people actually believe into these lies.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but the truth is the truth.

    Have a great day and all the success, health and happiness that you deserve and desire, take care.

    Kind regards.

    Dean.

    • I totally agree with you, Dean, that there is no money in a cure.
      There is a lot of misinformation about vaccinations these days. We all need to be vigilant about the source of the information.
      While I value opinions, I put my trust in facts that are independently verifiable.
      Thank you for your honest comment.

  • Thanks for sharing this information Ellie. I get my flu shot each year, because the last time I contracted the flu, very soon after I experienced thyroiditis, which my endocrinologist believed could have been caused by my having that flu. It was over six months before my thyroid got back to normal, and I definitely don’t want to go through that again.

  • It is great to know that you have a Masters in Nursing Science. That is very reassuring for me. It gives you a lot of legitimacy in my eyes. I could not agree with you more that everyone should get vaccinated. It makes a lot of sense. When everyone is vaccinated, it minimizes the spread of disease.

    I do have a question though. If I go without getting a vaccination and get sick and recover, would that make my immune system stronger? I do not want to get a vaccine unless I have to. I look forward to reading your response.

    Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

    • Great question, Alex!

      You are correct in thinking that if you get sick and then recover you will have immunity to whatever bacteria or virus made you sick in the first place. That’s the idea behind vaccinations. A little bit of the bacteria or virus you want to avoid getting sick from, usually in a form that will not be contagious to someone else coming into contact with you, is injected or inhaled. Immediately, your immune system begins to manufacture antibodies (to that particular bacteria or virus) so you won’t get sick if you later run across it.

      I totally understand not wanting an unnecessary jab in the arm. To restate it in another way, your immune system will protect you from future infections with the exact same bacteria or virus that made you sick. But you could get sick with a different strain even if you got flu and then recovered. You could also get the flu even if you had the flu vaccination because the vaccine is made months before the US flu season. This means scientists must make the best guess as to what strains will be most prevalent.

      It used to be thought that a young, healthy person usually didn’t get really all that sick from the flu. But a new type of influenza virus that spread worldwide during 2009-2010 caused more than 12,000 flu-related deaths in the US and nearly 90% of them were people younger than 65. Last year’s season was another one for the records in that 900,000 people were hospitalized and 80,000 died from the flu in the US.

      While getting flu can be bad enough, there can be a lot of mucus production along with it. This could set you up for possible bacterial pneumonia on top of the flu. Some people with pneumonia can develop an overwhelming, multi-system infection that is often fatal.

      My advice is to get the vaccination. Even if the projections were way off and the vaccine isn’t as protective as hoped for, if you get sick with the flu you will probably have an easier time than someone who did not get vaccinated.