Is it a cold or the flu?

fluLet’s face it, flu season is here. People all around you are coughing and sneezing. Your throat feels scratchy and you’re wondering if you could be getting sick. It’s probably inevitable that you’ll become ill at some point, but how will you know if you have a common cold or the seasonal flu? The truth is, it’s often tricky and difficult to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. Germs are germs, right? Well, both colds and the flu are respiratory infections and they are caused by a virus rather than bacteria, HOWEVER the viruses are DIFFERENT.

As a rule, symptoms of the flu are worse than a cold.  Flu symptoms can be similar to a common cold such as; a runny or stuffy nose, fever, body aches, and fatigue but they are usually much more intense (or worse). With a cold, the symptoms are gradual. You might start off with a runny nose that slowly over a few days turns into a cough. You may have a fever but with a cold, your temp is typically lower than 101. The flu almost always comes on fast – you feel okay in the morning but after lunch you might feel like you’ve been run over by a truck. You will likely have a fever of over 101 that is accompanied by chills and strong body aches that make you want to go to bed and stay there.

Sometimes the symptoms can be subtle making it difficult to tell the difference between the common cold and the flu.  If you or your health care provider really want to know the cause of your symptoms, there is a rapid influenza test that you can have done at your HCP’s office that is very accurate.  Medicine called, “antiviral drugs” such as Tamiflu® and Relenza may lessen the time you are sick and decrease possible complications. These medications can only be prescribed by a health care provider. Antibiotics are totally different from antiviral medications and do not work on illnesses caused by a virus, only those caused by bacteria. Research studies have shown that antivirals work best when given within 2 days of getting the flu but studies have shown that they may also be effective when started later.

It’s very important to understand that the flu is a serious illness. Many people die each year due to complications from the flu. Your best defense is to get the flu shot! If you haven’t had your flu shot yet, make an appointment with your HCP and get vaccinated! In the meantime, you can lessen your chance of getting the flu by: avoiding close contact with people who are sick, washing your hands often with soap and water or using an antibacterial hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.

-Nurse Phaedra