Okay, so it’s mid-January and it’s really cold outside. You know what else? Tis’ the season for the inevitable flu.

Here’s the deal: the minute my friends get the sniffles, they throw around the terms “cold” and “flu” quite loosely. Now, I am not denying the fact that they are under the weather, but I think there is much confusion between the common cold and the flu.

Well enter my microbiology degree once again for the second instalment of my “Health Corner” series. 

Feeling blue? What-the-what is going on? 

Here is the down-low on the flu.

What is the flu?

The flu is a manifestation of symptoms caused by the Influenza virus. So, what does a virus do? Well, a virus can only infect and persist in a living cell.

There are a few ways you can contract this type of virus. The first is by droplets. If you have ever used hairspray or perfume, think of how the scent lingers in the air once you have sprayed it. The same thing happens when a person coughs or sneezes. They send hundreds of thousands of little tiny infected droplets (cells infected by the virus) into the air. If you are in proximity to them, general rule is an arm’s length, you inevitably inhale some (yum, I know).

The next way is actually by indirect contact. A sick person coughs and touches the doorknob. Ten minutes later, you touch the doorknob, and then BAM: days of headaches, fever, coughing, muscle or joint pain, congestion, sneezing and the tell-tale-sign of this virus: fever #SoMuchFun #PartyForDays.

*Now, side note*

Why are epidemics such as H1N1 also called Swine flu so scary? I mean they are still in the “flu” family right? Yet, when a new virus comes along, people freak out harder than when Beyoncé dropped a secret album overnight.

For starters, there are 3 types of Influenza: groups A, B & C. All influenza strains have avian origins. When they make the jump to mammals, a.k.a swine, they can then infect humans much more easily (lucky us).

Group A is the major player; it is responsible for all of the crucial epidemics. The group B is one that exclusively infects humans. Viruses love us so much that sometimes they can change completely so we become a perfect match #jealous. The group C is bad, but for now, we just do not care about it (got to edit sometimes) and it does not affect humans.

The group A has two important “tags” on their surface. These “tags” tell our body what strain and type of virus is invading. The “tags” or proteins are called Hemagglutinin, and Neuraminidase…H & N. Sometimes, what happens is that a slight change in “shape” of these “tags” forces us to classify them differently, like in numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. So now you get why we say H1N1.

It’s almost like a barcode when you are buying clothes in a store. When you get to the cash (when the virus arrives in our system), you have to ring up the tag (tell your system who’s here) and see how much the item costs (what does your body need to do to fight off the infection).

The Influenza virus with the "H" and "N" "tags" Image Source:  www.CDC.gov

The Influenza virus with the "H" and "N" "tags"

Image Source:  www.CDC.gov

So, why is it scary?

The seasonal flu only differs slightly each year. It’s like when your brunette friend dyes her hair blonde. At first your like, woah, that’s different. But she’s not fooling anyone, underneath all that bleach, you know she’s still the same girl.

But an Influenza virus like H1N1 is a whole new thing that your body has never seen before. Therefore, your body treats it like an invader and goes into supercharged protection mode, causing you to have a much stronger reaction.

Now, back to the seasonal flu.

Unfortunately, you can be contagious one day before you start presenting symptoms, and between 5-7 days after. It is most prevalent in the month of February, so y’all better start washing those hands.

Do you need the flu shot?

If you are a healthy 18-55 year old, who doesn’t work in the health sector, probably not. The flu vaccine given last year was an epic catastrophe, so even if you do get it, nothing is guaranteed. Why was it a catastrophe? Because they used the wrong strain in the vaccine, so in the end, tons of people still ended up getting sick.

However, if you suffer from a chronic disease, or are over the age of 60, get the flu shot, it might save your life.

If you happen to get the flu, there is an anti-viral you can take to shorten your symptoms, it’s called, Tamiflu® (Doctor prescribed). It blocks the flu by blocking the N (neuraminidase) part of the virus.

So to sum it all up, fever equals flu, wash your hands, and if you’re sick, go get yourself some Tamiflu®.

If you simply have a headache and a runny nose, then you have a cold (a different type of virus). Take the sick day, binge watch The Office (now on Netflix, my friends), drink plenty of fluids and you’ll live.

If you made it to the end of this article, I’m honestly impressed. You’ve officially passed intro to virology! Okay… maybe not, that class was death. 

Did you see my last Health Corner article? 

Catch up right here! 

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