We are getting to that time of year again, cold and influenza season. Your co-workers and friends will start having cough, runny nose, congestion and fevers. You may be wondering, what is the difference between an upper respiratory infection also known as the common cold and influenza?
Both influenza and colds are caused by viral infections. The common cold can be caused by more than 200 viruses, and can be spread from person to person through the air and close personal contact. Rhinovirus is the most common type of virus that causes colds. Signs and symptoms of colds are sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing, post-nasal drip, watery eyes, mild headache and mild body aches. These symptoms may last up to 2 weeks. The treatment for a cold is symptom relief since antibiotics do no kill viruses. Colds do not usually result in serious health issues like pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalization.
Influenza is one of the most common infectious diseases and is a highly contagious airborne disease that occurs in seasonal epidemics. The symptoms of the flu are initially very similar to those of the common cold, with fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and myalgia, but these symptoms usually progress as the infection evolves and are more severe than those seen with the common cold. The influenza virus causes serious health issues and the CDC estimates that it is responsible for an average of more than 20,000 deaths annually. Medications are not available to the kill the influenza virus, but we have antiviral medications that can shorten the duration of illness by 1-2 days if the illness is diagnosed within the first 48 hours of onset.
As you can see there are many similarities between colds and the flu, especially that they are both transmitted person to person via the air and close personal contact. Both illness can occur at any time, but have a higher incidence during the fall and winter. While these similarities exist, it is important to note that the flu is a much more serious illness that can lead to death, especially in the pediatric and geriatric populations, and those with impaired immune systems.
The most effective strategy to stay healthy during the cold and flu season is prevention! Some of the strategies you can use to protect yourself from both flu and colds is to wash your hands often with soap and water, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and stay away from people who are sick. Stay at home if you are sick, don’t expose others to your illness. Take the time to get a flu vaccine, the CDC states this is the most important step in protecting against flu virus.
For more information on this topic please go to www.CDC.gov/flu