Medical Fun Facts Podcast

MFF0080: Influenza

Hello and welcome to Medical Fun Facts Episode 80
It’s Monday 21 August 2017

Some browsers will not render the embedded YouTube video clip. The URL for the YouTube video is

I’m sorry if my voice is really flaky but that’s what this episode is all about. More about that later.

So what about the letter F. Well F is for a word I really don’t like using in public discourse. Can you guess what word I’m thinking of?

Of course, it’s the word Flu. As much as I like Star Trek and especially the character of Data in The Next Generation, my reason for not liking contractions of words isn’t the same as Data’s. I think for proper names, we shouldn’t shorten them. For one thing, it dismisses the significance and it also sounds childish. The same is true when I hear people contract the name of one of my favourite diseases from Melioidosis to Melio! It doesn’t sound right.

So back to Influenza, yes, that’s the proper disease name. As I alluded to, part of the problem is that the term Fluin common parlance has come to mean anything but Influenza. People use it now to describe almost any upper respiratory tract infection or URTI. I also hear people use the term Stomach Flu to describe gastroenteritis or what is more likely just a colitis which is causing some diarrhoea.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not railing against a great Australian tradition of shortening names of things and people. For example, rather than Gary, I get called Gaz or Gazza or Gus. People named Lawrence may get Laz or Lazza. People with red hair may get called Blue. Likewise, upper respiratory infections used to be called a lurgy or a wog. But now, the latter is deemed politically incorrect. As an aside, when I was a boy, Mum told me that WOGmeant Wise Oriental Gentleman so I was keen to be called a Wog rather than the Greeks and Italians at school.

So I don’t have Influenza at the moment. I was immunised earlier this year with this season’s quadrivalent vaccine. That said, it could have failed and I could have an aborted infection. More likely though I’ve been infected with another respiratory virus or viruses. Yes, it’s possible to be infected with more than one.

This year we’ve seen a good spike in reported cases of Influenza. This has been evident in the officially collected statistics from jurisdictional and Australian Government sources. What we’ve also seen is a good spike in laboratory confirmed diagnoses of respiratory viral infections. On Fridays when I’m practising medicine in ACT Pathology, I get to authorise the molecular microbiology reports and this last Friday was huge. I can only imagine what it’s like in private pathology practice.

What I’ve also noticed is an increase in reports where we diagnose more than one respiratory viral pathogen.

I’ve snipped part of a screen shot from a report I authorised on Friday. You can see we reported three viral pathogens in the one specimen.

Respiratory panel

For people in Canberra, I know a lot of us have been enduring this low grade viral infection which has been manifesting as a persistent cough which is keeping us up at night so we feel like zombies with brain fog during the day. There aren’t the usual paranasal congestion symptoms of a common cold and the head ache we’re experiencing is more to do with the cough than the infection itself.

While this podcast is very clear about not offering any medical treatment advice, all I can say is that rest and fluids and waiting it out is what it will take. I know some people worry about secondary bacterial infections, but you really should notice a change in symptoms, e.g., developing a mild fever or an increase in lung butter or symptoms of sinusitis.

Yes, lung butter, that’s a colloquial expression for phlegm. I’d love to know if any listeners not in Australia are familiar with the term lung butter. Please let me know in the comments.

If you disagree with anything in these podcasts or if you would like to voice a different view, please feel free to write a comment. If I have said something incorrect I welcome correction. Please also feel free to share your comments on social media.

You can find me on Twitter and Facebook. Please follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page.