Is it a cold or the flu?

marytschida 4x6As we approach the height of flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the 2014-2015 season may be severe – as many strains of the influenza virus being seen are not covered by this year’s vaccine.

Despite this imperfect match, the flu vaccine can still provide some protection, since antibodies made to fight one strain of the flu can sometimes help to fight off different but related strains of the virus. The CDC recommends immediate vaccination for anyone still unvaccinated this season and urges people who come down with the flu to seek medical care, which may include a prescription for anti-viral medication.

To help you distinguish a cold from the flu, follow these basic guidelines and see a physician quickly if you suspect you have the flu. The common cold is centered in the nose, while the flu tends to affect your whole body. Fever and the severity of symptoms are key differences between influenza and the common cold. Typically, colds have a more gradual onset and are relatively mild, while the flu comes on suddenly and includes a fever, aches, chills and tiredness.

Seasonal flu can begin as early as October and last into May, but typically peaks in January and February. Both the common cold and the flu are caused by viruses that do not respond to antibiotics – which only work on bacterial infections.

Antiviral medications can be prescribed to help treat the flu, but they are most effective if given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

To be treated for flu symptoms or get a flu shot, visit a North Memorial Clinic or call 763-581-CARE. For fast, online diagnosis and treatment of the flu without having to go to the doctor’s office, visit North Memorial’s North eCare.

To stop the spread of germs, keep your hands clean, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, stay home when sick and get vaccinated against the flu.

Check these basic guidelines to understand the difference between cold and flu symptoms:

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Sometimes, usually mild Usual, high (100°-102° F, occasionally higher, especially in young children), lasts 3 to 4 days
Headache Occasionally Common
General Aches, Pains Slight Usual, often severe

Symptom onset Gradual Within 3 to 6 hours
Chills Uncommon Common
Fatigue, Weakness Sometimes Usual, can last 2 to 3 weeks
Tiredness Mild Moderate to severe, especially at the beginning of the illness
Stuffy Nose Common Uncommon
Sneezing Common Uncommon
Sore Throat Common Uncommon
Chest Discomfort, Cough Mild to moderate, hacking cough Common, can become severe

Complications Sinus infection, asthma, middle ear infection Bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infection, can be life-threatening
Treatment Antihistamines, decongestants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines Prescription antiviral medications in some cases; call your doctor for treatment information.

January 8, 2015
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