A fall break experience I do not care to repeat

So while most of my fellow undergraduates were leaving town to go somewhere, anywhere, other than Morris for fall break, I had to stay behind. Sure, staying in Morris is not really all that bad, I mean, some people actually live here (sorry Professor). But I will be honest-it really is not on my list of top places to live. It is just, well, boring. I had to stay behind because I had some animals I had to take care of, and I will admit, I was looking forward to spending time lying in bed, working with my horses, and catching up on my senior seminar. Little did I know exactly how much time I would spend doing the first, and hardly any of doing the latter two.

Yep, this break I got floored with a virus. AND I literally mean floored. We shall call it the flu, because I had all the flu-like symptoms. Headache. Swollen lymph nodes. Achy neck and back. Fever. Achy stomach. Dizziness. So I spent a wonderful Saturday doing all the things a person my age would love to do, and then spent Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and some of today confined to my bed. Sure, you can say,

well you slept through most of it, so it couldn’t have been all that bad

But believe me, what little I was awake for was horrible. Mostly because it was absolutely gorgeous outside, I didn’t have any classes to attend, and yet my body was waging a war inside of me.

So, I understand the basic principle of how viruses work, but how can one virus have a multitude of diverse symptoms? What’s with the headache, and the achy joints? Do viruses affect neurons the same way they can affect other cells? Do they even invade neural cells?


  1. Dianne says

    Ah, but you forgot a factor…your immune system. It was more the prostoglandins and other “evil humors” produced to try to kill off the virus than the virus itself that were making you feel like a toxic waste dump having a particularly bad day. Isn’t evolution wonderful?

  2. raven says

    Probably cytokine release by the immune system. IL-1 is called the endogenous pyrogen, producing fever. Interferons commonly produce flu like symptoms which is why being treated for nearly a year to cure HCV is so trying. IL2, IL6 etc. are no fun either.

    So what do people do for fun in Morris? Seems like 5,000 people, 2,000 of which are students. Lakes to swim in, fishing, rivers to float, trails to hike? Since it is prairie doesn’t look like there are many hills to climb.

  3. Nomad says

    I’ve found an interesting side effect when I get badly ill from uber-flu. I find that comedy movies are funnier, and drama is more dramatic. I’m naturally a bit of an emotional person, but when I’m ill and watching dramatic scenes I find it even harder to avoid crying with either sadness or joy, depending upon the scene. Equally I find myself laughing a lot more from the funny scenes.
    I’ve even found myself laughing out loud from reading old Garfield comics (I have a bunch of Garfield books from when I was a kid). Yes, I feel rotten, but.. if I’m spending my time flat on my back I at least read or watch something funny so I can get a chuckle out of the whole ordeal.

  4. LucyV says

    Commiserations. Any chance you can send a little vial of potent bugs to me in London? Watch out for bio-terrorism laws!

  5. darius says

    Fall break? I’ve never even heard of that. Consider yourself lucky you didn’t have to be at school while you were suffering through that; I would have had to go to school and work (well, I could take sick time from work if I needed to). No breaks for UNLV!

  6. SEF says

    It’s the UK half-term school holiday at the moment. Plus, surprisingly, there was some weather good enough to use for outdoor activities – by anyone not ill for the entirety of the time anyway!

  7. Donalbain says

    Random question:
    How do you address the people who deliver your education at university in the USA? My experience was that you referred to them by first name, no matter if they were a lecturer or a professor. Do you guys call Pee Zed Pee Zed or Professor Miers?

    Also: You get a half term holiday? What the? We never did when I was at uni. Of course I do now, but that is because I teach high school. Woo! Holiday!

  8. truth machine says

    Isn’t evolution wonderful?

    Evolution didn’t craft us to be comfortable. I wonder how the Godheads explain that even the “saved” can suffer a lifetime of excruciating pain.

  9. says

    Re: Donalbain – During undergrad in the South (practically another world, I know) there were any number of professors I ended up calling by their first name, I sure didn’t start out that way. There were also some who I never felt comfortable using their first name, even if others did. Some I was so taken with that I picked the habit up after just a couple intense discussions.

    Once we started spending more time in the field, the rule was something like: “If you’ve smelled them hungover and three days since their last shower, you can call them anything you want.”

    I have called nearly all my geology professors by their first name, but only one of my business instructors. I worked very hard to avoid my fellow business students, so I don’t know if that’s the norm.

  10. RevPJ says

    Re: Donalbain

    In my experience the form of address depends on the role of the teacher. Graduate students as teaching assistants are addresses by first name. Graduate students teaching a course are addressed as the appropriate Mr./Mrs./Ms.. Faculty with a Masters are addressed as Mr./Mrs./Ms. or as Prof. based on their preference. Faculty who have piled it higher and deeper are Prof. or Dr. based on their preference. Some faculty my give permission for using their first names, but that’s usually on a per-case basis. My advisor and his wife, both faculty, have encouraged my wife and I, both faculty, to always have our students address us in a formal manner.

    Several of my professors from my PhD program have told me I can address them by their first names, but I still have a difficult time doing so.

  11. Science Goddess says

    Correct-a-mundo! It is the Immune System that gives you the flu symptoms. It’s a response to invasion by an infectious agent. Prostaglandins, Interferons, Interleukins (cytokines), leukotrienes, defensins, complement. The list goes on….

    The hardest thing I have to do as an immunologist is to convince people that the flu shot *doesn’t* give them the flu! It’s the IMMUNE RESPONSE that makes you feel bad.

    A difficult concept for some, but not for you, I’m sure [grin]


  12. Umilik says

    Interesting question about how to address one’s prof. There seem to be strong regional differences i how that’s handled. In Canada, where I got my MSc and PhD at two different institutions, everybody was on a first name basis. Later I postdocced in the midwest where it was absolutely verboten for grad students to do so.

  13. sailor says

    Other posters have covered the major point, that it is your immune system making you feel dreadful so it can deal with the bug. Viruses can be temperature sensitive, so if you whack up your temperature it may help kill the virus. (I always wonder if this is true why viruses don’t seem to last any longer if you take aspirin to bring your temperature down). Then your body needs to devote a whole lot of resources to deal with his intruder, so it makes you feel like shit so you will lie down and and let it get on with the job.

  14. says

    I wonder how the Godheads explain that even the “saved” can suffer a lifetime of excruciating pain.
    Posted by: truth machine

    Characteristically they point to the book of Job, which details the sufferings of a man whose adored god lets him be ravaged by satan for years in order to prove that he (god) has the biggest cock.

    The “moral” is supposed to be that if you’re long-suffering and patient and submissive and devoted to your god like a whipped, terrorized hound, you will be Greatly Rewarded In Heaven after you snuff it.

    It’s basically a piss-poor rationalization for why bad things happen to good people, and it’s the archetype in the Judeo-Christian myth canon. Every explanation that has followed since uses the premise of Job at its core.

  15. says

    In any case, it would be Pee Zee, not Pee Zed….

    Sorry. Americans are wrong when it comes to naming the last letter of the English alphabet. Its name is Zed, not Zee.

    Only a Libertarian would disagree with me on this.

  16. Inky says

    Heh, I just attended a seminar by Linda Watkins, who studies the role of glia in pain. Glia, or, specifically microglia and astrocytes, are cells that wrap around your neurons that amplify pain by enhancing axon function.

    When you get sick, your brain has a sickness response: decreased appetite, lethargy, fever, increased drowsiness, memory disruptions, stress hormone release, anxiety, decreased social behaviors, and *enhanced pain* (your aches and such).

    When you’re sick, your macrophages secrete proinflammatory cytokines (TNFalpha, IL-1alpha and beta, IL-6), which when activate your glia, which then secrete yet more inflammatory cytokines, prostaglandins AND *neuroexcitatory substances*, which then travel to the brain, which then generates your sickness response.

    Your microglia and astrocytes actually express receptors for viruses and bacteria, so they don’t even really need the immune system to tell them to start working.

    Interestingly, glia activation opposes opiods, and opiods can activate glia, so people which have chronic pain can’t use morphine to alleviate this pain.

  17. Suze says

    I never, ever addressed a PhD-level academic by his or her first name in college. The thought never even crossed my mind. It seems disrespectful of both the professor and the position. The few kids I knew who did throw around first names sounded like they were bragging about a personal relationship that we knew they didn’t have.

  18. Donalbain says

    I guess it is a matter of local custom. Other than my my first year at uni, when I was in med school and referred to them as Doctor X, all my lecturers (who were all PhDed)were referred to by all by first name. A friend of mine went to Sussex Uni and they called Prof Kroto Harry.

    I think one of the factor might be that the classes I was in were VERY small (about 10 or so for most physics classes) and the lecturers would often come with the students to the pub at the end of the day if a conversation was particularly interesting..

  19. Nix says

    Um, Inky, glia are in the brain (most of the cells in the brain are glia), so substances secreted by glia don’t have to travel to the brain: they’re already there.

    Glia also, of course, do heaps of other stuff as well as amplify pain. Recently evidence has emerged that some glia don’t just do supporty things to keep neurons happy, but have honest-to-goodness synaptic connections with neurons. The more glia get studied the more it becomes clear they haven’t been studied enough…