If Not the Flu, Then What Is It?

We are in the midst of a particularly nasty flu season. Both children and adults may come down with some (or all) of the symptoms of influenza – fever, chills, sweats, congestion, fatigue, dry cough, and muscle aches.

While many will be infected with this nasty virus, others may have one of the flu’s viral mimics.
Adenoviruses can infect people year-round, although they are more common in colder weather.

Unlike influenza’s 1-3 day rapid infection-to-symptoms time (i.e. its incubation period), adenoviruses can take 2-14 days to make someone sick.

Symptoms can include fever, runny nose, congestion and cough, which usually last 3-5 days.

The sore throat these viruses can cause can look and feel as bad as one caused by group A streptococcal bacteria.

Unlike influenza viruses, these viruses can cause a bladder infection that causes a person to urinate blood, an eye infection (conjunctivitis), middle ear infections, vomiting and diarrhea.

They can also cause wheezing and pneumonia.

Enteroviruses have a 3-6 day incubation period. They can cause high fever, sore throat, conjunctivitis, rash, muscle aches (especially in the muscles between the ribs), vomiting and diarrhea.

Symptoms usually last for 7-10 days. Some of these viruses can cause hand, foot and mouth disease.

People with this disease can have blisters in the mouth, on the hands and feet, and on other areas of the body.

Parainfluenza viruses have a 2-7 day incubation period. Symptoms of these infections include fever, sore throat and body aches (more typical in adults).

They can also cause wheezing and pneumonia. They are notorious, though, for causing the barky cough of croup in susceptible children.

Cytomegalovirus has a rather long incubation period – 9-60 days. It can cause fever and sore throat. Sometimes the liver and spleen can be enlarged because of it.

Dengue fever and the West Nile virus are more likely seen in the summertime. Both can cause a flu-like illness, even though the latter tends to be milder in children.

Both are spread by mosquitos rather than other people.

Because influenza and most of the viral mimics listed above are spread by people, the best defense against them is to wash the hands frequently, avoid touching (or clean, if possible) contaminated surfaces, avoid crowded public places during the peak of the flu season, and cough or sneeze into the crook of the elbow.