No, you really haven’t got flu

Everyone I know seems to be ill. This is what is known as hyperbole. Sometimes it’s known as flu, or man flu. Other times it’s a bit of a flu. Occasionally it’s flue, but that’s just a spelling problem.

Here are some things you can’t do:

soldier on with flu

fight off flu

go to work with flu

have a bit of a flu

Flu is an extremely debilitating virus which renders you weak, aching and incapable of functioning in any normal way. You usually have to go to bed for a few days, and if you’re not in bed, you’re probably on your way to or from the loo.

Flu is not a synonym for a bad cold or a persistent cough. I am 71, and I’ve had flu twice in my life. It’s not something you forget, and it gets very irritating when people use the word lightly. It’s a bit like blasphemy.

There is no such thing as man flu. There is such a thing as malingering, but women do it too.

You can, if you like, have a flu-like virus, which generally means you’re achey and shivery and have no energy. It’s not good, but it’s not flu.

Why am I so bothered about the misuse of the word flu? Partly because over the years I have been susceptible to colds. I have an upper respiratory tract that is sensitive and easy to drive crazy. When I have a cold, my nose not only streams; it feels as if ants are running up and down it and biting. My eyes are sore and pour out water. My head feels as if it’s in a pressure cooker, and I sometimes have a sore throat too. I really can’t do anything but curl up until it goes away. I can’t read. I can’t watch television.

This is not flu. At worst it’s an upper respiratory tract infection. But it is disabling, which is why I get mildly annoyed by people who “just keep going” with colds and merrily infect anyone in their vicinity – many of whom get much worse symptoms than they do.

There is also the difficulty that if you stay at home with a cold, certain people will look at you askance. What? Just a cold? What kind of wimp are you? Well, since you ask, I’m the kind of wimp who would love to get the kind of mild cold symptoms that you do.

I’m not really whining. It just sounds like it. I am actually very grateful that I don’t get chest infections, or bronchitis, or pneumonia. Not yet, anyway. What I get is not life-threatening –  just very, very unpleasant.

My wife has just had a really nasty virus that generates symptoms of a heavy cold, plus a persistent cough and lack of energy, and which appears to go on and on. This is bad, but it is not flu. I believe the Queen had it, but it was not Royal Flu, though that is how it was described in newspaper headlines.

I understand that: I used to write newspaper headlines for a living. Flu fits nicely into narrow columns and big font sizes. But it is still wrong. Wrong, do you hear me? Wrong.  Just wrong.