Do you have the flu or is it a cold?

By on January 4, 2018

The recent holidays found most of us greeting family and friends with hugs and handshakes – and spreading the seasonal flu and colds. While it’s certainly not the gift or greetings we intended to share with loved ones it is the “gift” that keeps on giving for months to come as the infections are passed from one person to another.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) influenza/flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. Antibiotics do not help in treating the flu. Antibiotics are medications that fight infections caused by bacteria, but the flu is cause by a virus.

Whereas most people will recover from the flu in a few days up to two weeks with bed rest, plenty of fluids and over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat the symptoms, complications can occur that merit a visit to the doctor or a clinic.

Flu complications can include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections. The flu can also make chronic health conditions worse — people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience worsening of this condition and diabetics may see their blood sugar levels rise. Also at risk for complications are the elderly, pregnant women and young children.

The flu is different from a cold. Whereas some of the symptoms of the two illnesses can be similar, the CDC provides this table to differentiate between the flu and a cold:

Influenza                        Cold

Symptom onset               Abrupt                             Gradual

Fever*                             Usual; lasts 3-4 days       Rare

Aches                              Usual; often severe         Slight

Chills                               Fairly common                Uncommon

Fatigue, weakness          Usual                               Sometimes

Sneezing                          Sometimes                      Common

Stuffy nose                      Sometimes                      Common

Sore throat                      Sometimes                      Common

Chest discomfort,           Common; can be            Mild to moderate;

cough                              severe                             hacking cough

Headache                        Common                         Rare

*Not everyone who with the flu will run a fever.

While the seasonal flu can be detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter usually beginning in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although it can last into May.

While sick be considerate of others by observing the following tips:

  • Limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water especially after blowing your nose. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu especially toilet handles, faucet hardware, door knobs. Keep a hand towel for your use only while sick.
  • Stay home from work/school until your symptoms pass and isolate yourself from those in your home as much as possible.

After you have recovered from the flu disinfect your home in the following ways:

  • Discard your toothbrush and begin using a new one.
  • Launder all bedding and blankets you used while sick.
  • Empty wastebaskets in the exterior trash and, if possible, wipe the inside of the wastebaskets you used with an antibacterial wipe.
  • Do one last wipe down of shared surfaces – toilet handles, faucet hardware, door knobs and countertops.

Better yet – if you haven’t gotten a flu shot, it’s not too late. Be health conscious and stay well this winter!