The flu (influenza) and the common cold are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Flu is caused by the influenza virus, whereas colds can be caused be several different kinds of viruses. Because these two illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell which virus you have based on symptoms alone.
The flu can be mild to severe, but often it is worse than the common cold. Symptoms include:
• Fever or chills
• Dry cough
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle or body aches
• Fatigue (tiredness)
• Children may also have vomiting and diarrhea.
Every year, the flu season varies: when it starts, when it’s at its highest (peak) level, how long it lasts, and the severity of illnesses. Flu season typically begins in early October and can last through the end of May. This year’s flu season is worse than normal; the CDC reports that flu activity is widespread in 40 states, including ours. In addition, this year’s flu is hitting people 65 and older very hard.
Complications of the flu can include pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections, but it can also lead to hospitalization and death. People who are at high risk of complications from the flu are those 65 years and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women and young children.
The only way to be sure if you have a cold or the flu is to be tested, which must be done within the first few days of illness.
The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year. While this year’s flu vaccine is less effective at preventing the flu than in previous years, it is still recommended — getting the flu vaccine can lessen the severity and length of the illness. If you get sick with the flu, antiviral medications may be recommended for those who are at high risk of complications.
Bacteria and viruses are all around us; the best way to fight them off is to take care of yourself. This means getting plenty of rest; exercising regularly; eating a healthy diet with minimal sugar, caffeine and alcohol; balancing work and play; and practicing good hygiene.
If you do get sick, follow these guidelines to help prevent the spread of illness:
• Stay home if you are sick. This means do not go to work and stay away from public places.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve (preferably the crook of your arm) when coughing or sneezing.
• Dispose of used tissues in the nearest waste basket.
• Wash your hands often with warm water and soap; use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
• Sanitize equipment such as shopping carts, gym equipment, fuel pump nozzles, keyboards and phones.
The vision of the Thurston Thrives Clinical and Emergency Care Action Team is that “more people live longer, healthier lives, because they take care of themselves and received right care at the right place at the right time.” Taking care of yourself and contacting your health care provider when needed support this vision.
When it comes to cold and flu season, please do your part to help keep yourself and others healthy. If you haven’t gotten a flu vaccine, consider doing so. And be sure to call your doctor’s office if you have a fever that doesn’t come down when you take appropriate doses of Tylenol or Advil, if you are unable to keep fluids down, if you have uncontrollable diarrhea, if you have difficulty breathing, or if you are in a high-risk group for flu complications and think that you might have the flu.