Do I Have a Cold or The Flu?
It’s cold and flu season again! Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to tell the difference between them. The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, while flu can have very serious complications, especially for older adults, those with weakened immune systems or young children.
Symptoms of flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Cold symptoms usually develop one to three days after exposure to a virus. Symptoms may include scratchy, sore throat, sneezing and coughing, runny nose or nasal congestion, fatigue, headache and fever.
You can reduce your risk of cold and flu by practicing some simple preventive measures. The method is the same regardless of which virus you have.
Wash Your Hands! It can’t be said often enough: washing your hands prevents the virus that causes colds and flu. Any time you have to touch your face, especially your nose and mouth — if you work at a daycare, with the elderly or even in an office where others are sharing work space, break rooms or bathrooms — you could be exposing yourself to cold germs.
Don’t Smoke. If you smoke, what better time to think about quitting. The Great American Smokeout happens in November. Take advantage of the support to quit smoking to reduce your risk of a cold.
Cover Your Mouth. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. To avoid sharing your germs when you touch doors or shake hands, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
While the same preventive strategies for the common cold apply to the flu, it can have serious complications if you are in a high risk group. While the flu shot doesn’t address all varieties of flu that are out there, the shot typically covers the most common varieties of flu that season. The CDC reports 50% to 60% risk reduction among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the vaccine viruses. You may consider the flu shot if you are over 50, work in health care or work in an environment with children, such as daycare or schools. The flu shot is not for everybody, but it is live saving medicine for some.
This year the American Academy of Pediatrics is not recommending the FluMist nasal vaccine under any circumstances. The recommendation came about after research on the effectiveness of the nasal spray vaccine showed it to be ineffective. Studies over the last three flu seasons found that kids between 2 and 17 who got the puff up the nose were more than twice as likely than children who got the shot to get sick with the flu.
If you do get sick, stay home! Don’t share your germs with your co-workers. Nobody wants you to share your cooties at work and you are not so indispensable that you can’t miss a couple of days. You will likely feel better faster as you will get more rest.