Medical Matters: Shock as the Doc gets ‘Man Flu’

A possibly delirious Muiris Houston describes his brush with ‘man flu’

Mon, Jan 13, 2014, 18:00

However much it pains my scientific brain to say so, I’m pretty sure I have man flu.

As I write, in the kind of mental fog only two hours of sleep can induce, many pieces of the jigsaw are falling effortlessly into place.

It all started, somewhat ironically, on Oíche Nollag na mBan, with the vague but unmistakable feeling of “something coming on” Sure enough by the following morning I had a raw throat and a slight sniffle.


Horribly downhill
But by the end of the day it was all going horribly downhill, with chills alternating with sweats, rubbery legs and a worsening cough.

Overnight I was transformed from a medical hack to a severely hacking medic.

A bit of background might help nourish your diagnostic juices.

Over the festive period chez Houston enjoyed the welcome return home of its scattered diaspora.

However, one by one, all female family members succumbed in varying degrees to a viral upper respiratory tract infection.

By the time the last one had left, the bug could safely be described as having a predilection for those carrying the XX chromosome. In other words, yours truly remained blissfully symptom free.

Now, physically and mentally challenged as I am this morning, a diagnostic pearl shines brightly in the firmament.

Four female Houstons experience relatively mild symptoms of a viral illness that did not involve prostration over a two-week period.

Despite sharing this microbiologically challenging environment, one male Houston remains symptom free.

However, within hours of the now recovered females moving on, the male occupant comes down with a more severe illness than that experienced by his departed guests.

A virus never flew on one wing
Two inescapable scientific conclusions emerge: the “normal” viruses circulating among the female members of the household have mixed to produce a more virulent subtype.

(This mixing to produce genetically superior microbes has been extensively researched during the bird flu and swine flu scares of recent years); and those of us with robust Y chromosomes are especially at risk of the super-charged bug.

I will, of course, ensure this major breakthrough is communicated to leading researchers in the field of man-flu science.


Recent breakthroughs
As it happens they are on quite a roll at the moment. Recent breakthroughs include that from neuroscientists at Durham University, who say men really do suffer more with coughs and colds.

Apparently men have more temperature receptors in the brain which cause them to experience symptoms more acutely than women.

The difference is in the area of the brain called the preoptic nucleus which increases in size after male puberty.

And some Cambridge boffins say men’s additional suffering when ill has something to do with our evolutionary neglect of our immune systems.

The role of female partners in ensuring our recovery from man flu is undisputed.

I could not have written this week’s column without the significant input of Mrs H.

From mopping my fevered brow as droplets of sweat threatened to short-circuit the keyboard, to ensuring I watch a proper quota of my favourite box sets, her care and understanding has been exemplary.


‘Snotometer’
A minor faux pas was to ask if I would benefit from the application of a new man-flu diagnostic device called the “Snotometer”, clearly the work of charlatans.

I told her that as a distinguished medical journalist I could not be seen to fiddle about with such unscientific gadgetry.

“Of course,” she said, moving to yet again mop my fevered brow.

mhouston@irishtimes.com
muirishouston.com

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