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Swine Flu in North Idaho-Break Bone Fever

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Swine Flu in North Idaho-Break Bone Fever

Three people, three stories. In the second, Break Bone Fever, it's a relatively mild flu. Of course, mild is relative

You or your child begins to cough and sneeze. Is the flu? Is it swine flu? Do you go to the doctor? How do you know? Is swine flu just the flu, or should I be worried? Despite a billion or more Google queries, the answer to most of those questions is: we really don’t know yet. What we do know is that, despite all our preparations for pandemic flu, it looks like we really weren’t prepared for pandemic flu at all.

Following is one person’s account of infection with (probable) swine flu—my own. At the end, you can read what public health officials are telling us about symptoms, risks and when to see a doctor. But before you start, just a little more information.

Swine flu—what’s now referred to in the scientific data as A/California/H1N1—is the predominant flu strain circulating throughout the United States at this time. Rapid flu tests are expensive and not always (or even mostly) accurate; therefore, little testing for swine flu is being undertaken. You are told to assume that if you have flu symptoms, you have swine flu. The only time you should assume differently is when a flu vaccine becomes available. At that time, you’re asked to assume that no matter how sick you were, you are still not immune to swine flu and you should get vaccinated if you want immunity.


If I’d had to guess what was wrong with me, and if I didn’t know that swine flu was circulating in the area, I would have speculated I was suffering from dengue fever.

Why dengue? Simply because of its common name—break bone fever.

I didn’t feel like my bones were broken; it was worse than that. I felt like my bones, particularly my joints, were trying to break themselves into millions of tiny parts.

I would also say I suffered a “rapid onset” of symptoms, but what, really, is rapid? After all, one minute you’re not sick and the next minute you are and can it get any more (or any less) rapid than that?

Still, by my third cup of coffee, sometime around 7:30 or so in the morning, I found myself wondering if I were getting sick. There was that tingly, somewhere-in-the-back-of-your-head feeling that warned either “something wicked this way comes,” or that the coffee was not going to sit well with me.

By 9:30 am, delivering the October issue of the River Journal at North Idaho College, I no longer wondered if I were getting sick. I only wondered if I were going to be able to make it home to Clark Fork.

But those magazines needed to be delivered, so my trip back to Clark Fork was punctuated by stops at over two dozen racks where I would pause to soak my hands in anti-bacterial hand wash, load up the rack, then force myself back into the Geo for the next leg of the trip.

When I got home around noon, too tired to contemplate building a fire, I cranked the electric heat to 75, wrapped myself tightly in my jacket, and crawled under the down blanket on my bed. Except for necessary bathroom trips (which, I gotta say, seemed less and less ‘necessary’ as the hours went on), there I stayed until close to midnight, when I staggered out to the couch, still wrapped in coat and blanket, hoping to find a position where my bones might hurt less.

For the next four days, the only time I took the jacket off was when I took my daily hot bath in a desperate attempt to get warm.

On day two, the aching eased somewhat and the sneezing began; powerful sneezes that, uncovered, would send virus shooting four or five miles away I’m sure. And the exhaustion kicked in. Walking to the kitchen to eat was so enervating it took an hour nap to recover. Most of my time, in fact, was spent asleep and while asleep I would have enormously vivid, yet extraordinarily banal dreams. Despite their mild content, I would often awake from them with a start, heart beating rapidly, as if Jason himself were coming up through the middle of the couch.

On day three, hell took up residence in the interior of my body. I didn’t feel like I had fever, but everything inside me was coming out hot—Kleenex were unpleasantly warm to the touch after use. My eyes burned so badly that tears dripped down my cheeks most of the day and my eyelids turned bright red, a fashion touch I can’t ever imagine becoming much of a fad.

On day four I had two good hours where I could work and be active before needing a nap, and my energy slowly returned each and every day thereafter. Slowly is the operative word there... as I write this, day 26 from onset of symptoms, I am still not back to where I was at the start. My symptoms have faded to an intermittent cough, that persistent lack of energy, and a likely ear infection given the shooting pains that sometimes go through my eardrum. Public Health advice said I could go out and about 24 hours after the fever went away. Nonetheless, I went several weeks without seeing my newborn granddaughter, Some studies have shown that H1N1 can be contagious for a longer period of time than the seasonal flu, and that an infected person might be shedding live virus as long as they have symptoms. With a newborn, it’s not worth taking a  chance.


So what are the symptoms of swine flu? Honestly, it seems to present as many faces as there are people who get it. In a CDC study of those hospitalized from swine flu, however, 95 percent had fever; 88 percent had a cough. And it usually hits fast.

Flu is, at least initially, an upper respiratory infection with the concomitant runny nose, sneezing and coughing that goes along with such things. Some who get the swine flu experience some gastrointestinal symptoms as well, like diarrhea and vomiting. Body aches go hand-in-hand with fever, as do the chills; when a virus invades your body, cytokines rush to your bones to tell the marrow to produce more white blood cells for fighting the infection, making the bone ache. Chills are the result of rapid muscle contraction and relaxation, and occur as your body attempts to generate heat—to create the fever needed to fight infection.

Sore throat can also be a flu symptom, in many cases due to the virus yuck that’s draining from your sinuses down your throat. Strep throat, however, is also a possibility, and some studies are showing that swine flu can make people more susceptible to the strep viruses that may already live within their bodies.

Chest pain can occur due to fluid build-up in your lungs and can indicate a serious  complication.

The CDC recommends that anyone with the following symptoms call a health care professional immediately: pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, any trouble breathing, fever that’s accompanied by a rash, sudden dizziness or confusion, severe or persistent vomiting.

For children, contact a physician if they begin breathing fast or have any trouble breathing, if skin color looks bluish or gray, if they’re not drinking enough fluid, if they have difficulty waking up or interacting, are so irritable they don’t want to be held or touched, have any type of seizure or any sudden mental or behavioral change.

In addition, consult a doctor for any adult or child whose flu symptoms seem to improve, then return, especially with fever and/or a worse cough.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

health, H1N1, swine flu, Trish Gannon, flu symptoms

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