Cold and Flu
Can You Have the Flu Without a Fever?
The Influenza Virus
Influenza, or “flu” for short, is an illness caused by the influenza virus. If you have ever had the flu, you know how miserable it can make you feel. The virus attacks your respiratory system and produces a whole host of uncomfortable symptoms that last for between one and several days.
The flu is not a serious health problem for most people, but if you are elderly, very young, pregnant, or have a compromised immune system the virus can be deadly if not treated.
Types of Influenza
There are three categories of the flu virus: A, B, and C. The viruses designated as A or B are the most serious and cause the most harm. Vaccines are focused on targeting these to prevent outbreaks and epidemics. Type C influenza produces milder cases of the illness and is not a big concern in terms of public health.
Common Flu Symptoms
There are several symptoms that most people who contract the flu virus will experience. These include a fever, aches and pains throughout the body, which are sometimes severe, as well as headaches, chills, a sore throat, an extreme feeling of fatigue, a persistent and worsening cough, and a stuffy or runny nose. Not everyone with the flu has every symptom, and severity also varies by individual.
The Flu and Fever
Having a fever is a common symptom of the flu virus, but not everyone who contracts influenza will have one. Typically the fever that you get with the flu is high, over 100 degrees, and is partly responsible for why you feel so bad.
It is important to still treat a case of the flu seriously, even without the presence of a fever. You are still contagious and your illness could progress and become a real concern whether your temperature is elevated or not.
A Fever from Other Illnesses
There are many other causes of a fever besides the flu virus. Any type of infection, whether bacterial or viral, can cause you to run a fever. Even being sunburned or experiencing heat exhaustion can run your temperature up. Some types of cancer, certain medications, vaccines, and inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis may also be accompanied by a fever.
Flu vs. the Common Cold
If you have flu-like symptoms, but no fever, you might suspect that you have a cold. It is not always easy to tell the difference, and a cold can even cause you to have a mild fever.
In general, all symptoms are worse when you have the flu. You are also more likely to have congestion, a runny nose, a cough, a sore throat, or sneezing with the flu. Exhaustion is also characteristic of the flu, and is not nearly as extreme when you have a cold.
Treating the Flu
Treatment for the flu is, unfortunately, limited. If you catch it quickly, your doctor may be able to give you an antiviral medication that may shorten the duration of the infection. Otherwise, you simply have to stay home to avoid infecting others so that you can rest and recover. Sleep, drink plenty of fluids, and stay far away from others.
Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever
Common wisdom says that you should starve a fever, but the old saying just isn’t true. There is absolutely no benefit to not eating when you are sick, unless of course the illness is in your digestive tract. In fact, food will help you keep up your strength and give your immune system the energy it needs to fight the virus. Drinking liquids is also very important when you have a fever.
When to Worry
For most people the flu is unpleasant, but not serious. Anyone at risk for complications, however, should see a doctor if you suspect the flu. These people include the very young, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, and anyone whose immune system has been compromised. Even in healthy people it is possible that the flu could progress into a worse illness. If you do not feel better after a couple of days, you should see your doctor.
The Stomach Flu
One more fun fact about the flu is that the nasty virus that attacks your stomach and makes it impossible to keep food down for a day or two is not related to influenza. We often call it the flu, but this stomach bug is really termed viral gastroenteritis. No, it does not always cause a fever, but a mild increase in your body temperature is not uncommon with this infection.
10 Flu Myths. (2013). Harvard Medical School. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/flu-resource-center/10-flu-myths.htm
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● The Flu: What to Do if You Get Sick. (2012, January 26). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm
● Influenza (Flu). (2013). Children’s Hospital of Wisoconsin. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.chw.org/display/PPF/DocID/22842/router.asp
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