As fall begins, we start to see the leaves change, the temperatures drop and the number of coughs and runny noses begin to climb. It’s not the chilly weather that causes more illnesses, but our tendency to congregate indoors – making virus transmission easier. In order to help you deal with the months ahead, we’ve outlined the causes, symptoms, preventative steps and basic treatment methods for both the common cold and flu.
The common cold is typically caused by rhinoviruses and occurs primarily in the nose. Signs of a cold usually include runny nose, coughing, headache, fatigue, sneezing, sore throat and decreased appetite. Colds typically last for 3 to 7 days and residual symptoms like coughs can linger for weeks. It is normal for children to catch up to 10 colds per year!
Although the terms “cold” and “flu” are sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably, they are not caused by the same virus. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. All of the typical cold symptoms may be present with the flu; however symptoms are often worse and may include body aches, headache, chills, shaking, and fever. Whereas colds develop slowly, the flu strikes quickly and typically lasts one to two weeks. Young children – especially those under 2, seniors aged 65 and older, and those with chronic health conditions are most at risk of complications such as pneumonia and dehydration. Flu season typically lasts from October to April with a peak in January and February.
As far as symptoms go, a high fever alone does not necessarily imply a more severe flu. Healthcare providers must assess all symptoms to determine the severity of illness. Most healthy children and adults can tolerate a fever as high as 39.4˚C (103˚F) to 40˚C (104˚F) for short periods of time without problems – children tend to have higher fevers than adults. A fever of 38.9˚C (102˚F) or higher for 3 to 4 days is common with the flu. If it lasts for more than 4-5 days and other symptoms are not improving, you should see your doctor or nurse practitioner.
WHEN DO I NEED ANTIBIOTICS?
It is important to remember that not all bugs are created equally and often antibiotics are not needed. Bacteria and viruses both cause infections but antibiotics ONLY work against bacteria. If we use antibiotics unnecessarily they can cause bacteria to become resistant. This means that when we really need them they may not be effective.
COLD & FLU PREVENTION
Here are some practical tips to help prevent colds and flu:
- Always wash your hands after you cough or sneeze, before you eat and after you are in contact with someone who is ill.
- Cough into your upper sleeve or elbow as it is more difficult to transfer the virus from your arm than your hands.
- Carry hand sanitizer to use when soap and water are not available.
- Avoid sharing cups and utensils.
- Eat a diet rich in essential nutrients and supplement with daily Vitamin D up to 1000 IU (for adults)
- Get immunized. Everyone over the age of 6 months should receive a flu shot every fall. If you have allergies check with your care provider to determine whether a different version of the vaccine should be used.
WHAT DOES THE FLU VACCINE DO?
A flu shot triggers your body’s immune system to recognize the virus as a foreign invader and produce antibodies. The next time your body encounters the flu virus, it will remember to quickly mount an immune response to kill off the virus.
CAN I GET THE FLU FROM THE FLU SHOT?
Because the flu shot is made with dead virus it is not possible to develop the illness from the vaccine. It is important to note that antibodies do not develop until about 2 weeks after the flu shot so it is possible for you to get the flu while your immune system is starting to build an immune response. In the past, side effects from the flu shot were much worse and could have been mistaken for flu symptoms. Today the most common side effects are a sore arm, low grade fever, and aches. Many patients mistake a bad cold for the flu and unfortunately the flu shot does not protect against colds.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I GET A COLD OR FLU?
- Stay well hydrated
- Take Tylenol or Advil for fever and/or comfort
- Wash your hands and stay home whenever possible
- Get plenty of rest
WHEN SHOULD I SEE MY CARE PROVIDER?
- If you have difficulty breathing
- If you have a persistent fever (4 -5 days)
- If you are unable to keep fluids down
- If it really hurts to swallow
- If you have a persistent cough
- If you aren’t sure it is just a cold or flu!