“It is just a flu” Should Never be Comforting Phrase in the First Place

I do not know whether this applies to the anglophone world, but in Germany, and to the same extent in CZ, “flu” and “cold” are treated as more or less synonymous. And because the common cold is, well, common, most people when they say they came down with flu, what they really want to say is they had/have a bad case of the common cold.

One of my former colleagues thus thought that flu is something trivial and she always disparaged me when I said that flu is a serious illness and not something to be flippant about. I do not know how she managed to live for over thirty years and get herself a kid without encountering real flu, but she was among the lucky ones in this regard I guess. A healthy, strong woman in her thirties.

But in 2008 her luck ran out. In the morning she came to work as normal, but just mere two hours later she began to have fever and chills and got a splitting headache. She excused herself from work at noon and went home and did not return for two weeks.

When she came back, a rare thing happened – she acknowledged that she was wrong and I was right in our previous discussions about this. She just had a case of real flu and for a few days during that time, she actually feared for her life, because there were times when the fever made her see double and she was barely able to go the loo.

It is a sad reality that some people – I dare say many people – actually, really need to experience some hardship first hand to be able to believe it is real. Be it flu, or poverty, or discrimination.

When some people were saying that Covid-19 is just another flu in a derogatory and dismissive way, I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly strained them. Even if Covid-19 were just a new strain of flu, a new strain of flu would be terrifying. Even old and established strains of flu can be terrifying when they encounter an unvaccinated person who never got flu before.

“It’s just another flu” should have been a call to arms, not a placating head pat, even if it were true.


  1. Ice Swimmer says

    It’s just a flu, just like the first one we caught, before we had any immunity to it.

  2. Allison says

    Yeah, it was “just a flu” back in 1918.

    FWIW, in the USA, people also commonly say “flu” when they really mean a cold. (It’s like they say “bee” when they’re really talking about a wasp, which is a very different insect.) However, doctors do distinguish between a cold and influenza; the latter being not all that different in symptoms from COVID-19.

    I believe I’ve had influenza once — I was sick in bed with a fever that went up and down each day, but the daily peak was higher each day. By the end of the week, it was hitting over 104 F (40 C), and when I called the on-call doctor (who was not an idiot like the guy that was supposedly my doctor), he sent me straight to the ER (A&E for you Brits.)

    Nobody told me I had influenza, but by the time I was in the ER, it was pneumonia, which is really, really no joke. I was in the hospital for a week, on IV antibiotics to the point that I could taste it in my sweat, and it took a month or two to recover.

    BTW, IIRC, German has separate words for “cold” (Erkältung) and “influenza” (Grippe.) Are these the words people conflate?

  3. says

    I had the “summer flu” last year. Which is a viral infection as opposed to the common cold, which is often bacterial.
    “Summer flu” is supposed to be milder than “the real thing” and it only strengthened my resolve never to miss a single flu shot.

  4. Nightjar says

    It’s the same in Portuguese, people treat the words for flu (“gripe”) and for cold (“constipação”, and I know, that is quite the false friend) more or less the same. It doesn’t make much sense.

  5. Jazzlet says

    Yup it happens in the anglophone world, and having had the flu twice (before vaccinations were available) I do tend to jump on people who say “I had the flu for a couple of days”. In fact I jumped on Marcus for doing that very thing ;-)

    The first time I had it wasn’t too bad as it was during a university vaccation and I was at home, so my family looked after me. The second time was awful, it was in the early days of my relationship with Paul when I was living in Wolverhampton and he was living in London. We only saw each other at weekends, so for most of the time I was on my own, crawling to the toilet, not daring to try going down stairs and indeed worrying I’d fall down them as I crawled passed them to get to the bathroom to go to the toilet and get more water. Then there were the fever hallucinations …

  6. says

    I have a friend (a radiologist at a hospital in Utah) who is currently cycling through the virus. He has been running a fever for over a week and had the muscle aches and headaches just stop yesterday. He says he’s never had a fever this long but he takes the aches leaving as a good sign and is in good spirits. It is definitely not “just a flu”

  7. says

    It gets me when people respond to tweets about COVID-19 with numbers for the flu without seeming to realize that too damned many people die of the flu and we should be practicing good hygiene all the time!

  8. Who Cares says

    A ‘good’ flu is a week or two of having ground glass for bones (at least that is how your muscles think of having those bones inside them), a fever high enough that you can get hallucinations or other visual defects (like the seeing double) and a the need to take in so much water that your body tries to puke it back out (or flush it down a toilet) to protect itself.

    Just give me a strong cold that is a lot more preferable, that one at least allows me to function in the house while I recover.

  9. says

    I do wonder if you’ve had a related strain before if a flu infection might not hit you that hard. Or had a vaccine that was similar in previous years.

  10. says

    Robert Baden
    Yup. Flu shots have a kind of “cumulative effect” (as do flu infections). Each time your body adds knowledge, so even if you have not been vaccinated against this strain, your body usually gets a head start and infections tend to be milder. Happened a couple of years back when the gamble of predicting this season’s flu strains was lost and the common threefold vaccinations wasn’t that effective. Still, people who got it and caught the flu had typically milder symptoms.
    That’s another thing why the flu comparison is off: We have a lot of resistance against the flu within the general population, we have none against Covid 19.

  11. says

    I assume that I have never had a flu. Maybe I had it back when I was a very small child, back then I used to get sick more often and the symptoms were worse. But I have no clear memories of ever having had a flu. The colds I get each winter are pretty mild. Three days of sore throat, a week of needing to blow my nose regularly. That’s pretty much it.

    Still, I do believe people who talk about how a flu is terrible.

    In Latvian there are separate words for “cold” and “flu.” Usually everybody uses the word for “cold” unless a doctor has specifically diagnosed them with a flu.

  12. Gelaos says

    Initially, when the outbreak was concentrated mostly in China, I thought that the media are blowing it out of proportions and that people are overreacting. In addition, over the last years I had only mild colds during winter seasons so I was somewhat cocky about catching the flu/being ill in general. But karma finally hit me -- in January I got a flu. It was the first time I had it in last 5-7 years. This prompted me to read more detailed info about it (and about covid-19) and as a result my opinion about the outbreak changed rapidly.

    Another important thing is the social-economic impact of the outbreak. Coronavirus, although serious in some cases, is still a relatively mild disease for most people. But there are quarantines, closed borders, closed schools, hundreds of events cancelled, rise of unemployment and possiblity of global recession because of “just one flu”. I’d rather not even imagine what would it look like if the disease was more contagious and/or deadly.

Leave a Reply