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I is for Influenza

February 14, 2017 · No Comments

Is It Flu or a Cold?


Mercille Locke, R.N.

Once you have a bout with the flu, you'll no longer wonder if you just have a cold.

"The flu often hits like a bolt of lightning," said Mercille Locke, R.N., infection prevention program manager at NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital. "The flu comes on suddenly with a fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches, along with a sore throat and dry cough."

Cold symptoms are usually above the neck: runny nose, sore throat, congestion, and sneezing. The cold usually lasts about a week and you're most contagious during the first three days. The flu can make your body ache all over and it takes longer than a week to recover.

"We highly recommend flu shots," Mercille said. "Each year the flu vaccine is manufactured to combat the most likely strains of flu predicted for the season. And while you may still get the flu after you've been vaccinated, it likely will be a much weaker illness."

Cold symptoms are usually above the neck: runny nose, sore throat, congestion, and sneezing. The cold usually lasts about a week and you're most contagious during the first three days. The flu can make your body ache all over and it takes longer than a week to recover.

If you have the flu, the best way to treat it is to get to your doctor fast. Prescription medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza must be taken within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms. The medication can help you recover quicker and will decrease your chances of developing complications such as pneumonia. Without treatment, you may feel a general malaise for some time. Flu can be dangerous for people who have weakened immune systems or people who are very young or elderly. It also poses a risk for people with pulmonary or heart problems.

Unlike the flu, there is no specific treatment for the cold virus. You can treat the symptoms with Tylenol for fever and body ache, and/or use saline gargles for a sore throat.

Whether you have a cold or the flu, there are some definite things to avoid, Mercille added. "Don't take a variety of cold medications because you could accidentally double-dose on certain ingredients," she advised. "And, don't take antibiotics, because they have no effect on the viruses that cause cold and flu."

What's the best way to prevent getting a cold or flu at this time of year? It's still not too late to get a flu shot thru March 31. Frequent hand washing is always a good practice to avoid spreading germs. Practice hand hygiene often by using friction for at least 15 seconds with either soap or water or hand gel. And observe respiratory etiquette and always cover your cough.

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