Flu Season Is Right Around the Corner
Because a cold and the flu share many of the same symptoms, including runny, stuffy nose, sore throat and coughing it is sometimes hard to know if you really have the flu. However, health experts across the country agree that having a fever and the severity of symptoms you are experiencing are key to differentiating between influenza (flu) and the common cold.
Difference Between The Cold and the Flu
Things that differentiate between a cold and the flu include a fever, body aches and chills, fatigue and sudden onset of symptoms are the key signs that you have the flu. Both colds and the flu are caused by viruses which are common this time of the year when close contact with others and the stress of busy work and holiday schedules make us even more susceptible. But differentiating between a cold and influenza, at least initially, is not always easy because the two can share a number of the same symptoms such as a stuffy nose, a sore throat and a cough.
Colds are typically mild and will usually last only a few days and, in most cases, your body can still function with a cold. When you have the flu within a short time of contracting the virus you will start experiencing a high fever (102 degrees or more), and your whole body aches, and you can’t even get off the couch. At that point you can probably guess correctly that you probably have the flu.
Unlike colds, which tend to have a more gradual onset, the flu usually comes on more suddenly and that one characteristic is the feature in the mnemonic device for identifying the flu — FACTS
- Sudden onset of tiredness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and last as late as May, but it usually peaks in January or February. The best defense against the flu is to get your flu shot early.
The common colds, caused by many different viruses are most often rhinoviruses. The CDC estimates that there are approximately 1 billion cases of the common cold annually in the United States alone. The flu accounts for fewer cases the agency reported that during last year’s flu season there were about 31.8 million influenza-associated illnesses and 14.4 million-related doctor visits during last year’s flu season. Even though there are fewer cases of the flu, it’s still considered a far more severe viral infection.
Complications that can arise from the influenza virus include bacterial pneumonia, a weakened heart muscle, and even the death of people who could be otherwise healthy. The virus is responsible for the hospitalization of over 200,000 people each year.
Last year there were 169 flu-related deaths among children that were reported by the CDC last month. The agency does not keep the same type of statistics on adults, but estimates that there are somewhere around 24,000 deaths are related to the influenza each year.
The common misconception for the treatment of both the common cold and the flu is that antibiotics can fight these viruses, however viruses do not respond to antibiotics. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections but, many people still think otherwise. In a national survey of consumers that the foundation released this month, 44% of respondents incorrectly said antibiotics fight the flu and 48% mistakenly believed that flu vaccines “treat” influenza.
There are antiviral medications that can be prescribed by a physician to treat the flu but, they work best if given within 48 hours of when people began to feel ill. The CDC recommends taking “everyday preventative actions” to stop the spread of germs, such as covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze; staying home when you are sick and washing your hands with soap and water several times a day and especially after being out in public places like the mall or grocery store where you are exposed to a large number of people.
Even after taking all the everyday precautions many people still get the flu. The CDC reports that the most effective way of preventing the flu in your family is by getting a flu vaccine (either injection or nasal spray) and says the vaccine is key to reducing the risk of flu for everyone. It has also been said that Vitamin D can assist with not getting the flu.
There are people who are at higher risk of contracting the flu no matter how many precautions that take including:
People who are at high risk of developing more serious complications such as pneumonia if they get the flu
People who have other medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease
Children 5 and younger and especially those younger than 2
Elderly people 65 years and older
Caregivers and others who live with or care for people who are at high risk of developing serious complications
Receiving the vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of contracting the flu virus by as much as 60%, and although it does not affect every known flu virus out there, it does prevent many of the flu viruses that might be circulating in a given season. In cases where vaccinated people still get the flu, the symptoms may be lesser than they would have been otherwise because the vaccine generates an immune response.
Is it the cold or the flu?
Here are the differences according to health experts:
• Fever. One of the first signs and rare for a cold but, common with the flu virus. Fevers can go up to 102 degrees, especially in children, and can persist three or four days.
• Headache. Colds will rarely cause you to have a headache where they are quite common with the flu.
• Aches and pains. Although you can experience aches and pains with a cold they are usually mild. Aches and pains with the flu are most usually much more severe.
• Fatigue. Again, fatigue and tiredness can occurs with a cold, but the flu will usually start with a period of exhaustion and can last two or three weeks.
• Sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat. These are the most frequent symptoms of a cold but can and most usually will occur with the flu.
• Chest discomfort, cough. Again these symptoms can be present with a cold and the flu but are most often mild to moderate with colds and more severe with flu.
• Get plenty of rest.
• Drink lots of fluids, which can thin mucus and prevent dehydration.
• Over-the-counter medication, such as antihistamines, decongestants and pain and fever reducers, can provide temporary relief from symptoms.
• If you’re feeling very weak, running a high fever (102 degrees or higher), have trouble breathing or symptoms worsen, contact a medical care provider.
The same is true if you suffer from a chronic illness, such as asthma, diabetes or congestive heart failure, which makes you more vulnerable to complications.