Almost three quarters of a million people surveyed said they had suffered from a cold within the last year.
You wake up with aches and pains, a sore throat, fever and a cough. What should you do? Do you have a cold or the flu? According to a study reported by the Archives of Internal Medicine February 24, 2003, almost three quarters of a million people surveyed said they had suffered from a cold within the last year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2008-2009 flu season report acknowledges 5% to 20% of the population gets the “flu” every year. More than 200,000 people become hospitalized and over 36,000 die from flu-related complications every year. Knowing the difference in the symptoms of a cold and the flu is the first step to knowing which course of action you should take.
Myths and Facts
Some common myths existing about catching the cold and flu include going out in cold weather, getting wet, or that you must have a “weakened” immune system to be susceptible. None of these myths are true. Viruses cause colds and the flu. There are over 200 known viruses causing the “common cold.” There are also many types of flu viruses, but some of the most common are the A, B, and C types. Most human cases of the flu are influenza virus types A and B. Type C influenza viruses most often affect animals.
Fever can accompany a cold but is generally low-grade, below 102 degrees. You may have a runny nose, cough and sore throat, sneezing, muscle aches, fatigue and watery eyes. Children are more likely than adults to run a fever with a cold. If you catch a cold, you can usually expect it to take a week or so to run its course. There is no cure for the common cold, and the best course of action is to get plenty of rest and treat the symptoms.
With the flu, in addition to all the symptoms listed for the common cold, you will often run a fever of over 102 degrees. The muscle aches are more severe than with a cold, especially in the back, arms and legs. You can have chills, sweats, headache and nausea. If the symptoms become too severe or you become dehydrated, you should seek immediate treatment from your physician.
Cold and Flu Treatments
You should drink fluids and get plenty of rest until the cold and flu symptoms subside. Many over-the-counter medications can help relieve your symptoms, including analgesics such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen for pain and fever; antitussives or cough suppressants (you should not take cough suppressants if you are coughing up mucus); expectorants, which can help loosen mucus; and decongestant nasal sprays that shrink swollen nasal passages, producing some relief from congestion. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication which can lessen the severity and length of the illness.
The best cure for the cold or flu is prevention. Frequent hand washing with warm water and an antibacterial soap will help prevent the spread of cold and flu viruses. If you are sick, cover your mouth when coughing to prevent spreading the illness to others. The best prevention against the influenza virus is having an annual vaccine. Flu vaccines work by exposing your body to the flu virus and letting your body’s own immune symptoms produce antibodies to fight the virus. It is still possible to get a “mild” case of the flu after having the vaccine, but the length and severity of the illness is milder.