How will I know the difference?
We can all feel pretty awful with a cold, and many people think they have the flu when in fact it is one of many strains of the common cold. How do you tell the difference?
What is the common cold?
The common cold refers to an infection of the upper respiratory tract with one of many rhino-viruses. Each virus has its own unique pattern with similar symptoms that we all know: sore throat and painful swallowing (which is often only for the first couple of days, nose dripping like a tap and then blocked, feeling flat and lethargic, and a cough which can come early or later in the course of the illness. You can feel a bit shivery and sometimes but not always, have a low grade temperature (37.5 to 38.5) The intensity of the symptoms eases off after the first two or three days, and then you feel like you can get on with things even though the cough and runny nose is annoying. Bed rest is not usually required unless you are already compromised with other health issues.
What is influenza (the flu)?
Influenza or ‘the flu’ is a different virus to the common cold. Again there are many strains which evolve each year, affecting people all over the globe. They are named each year by scientists who are busy creating vaccines to each new strain. Some you may remember by their notoriety in the media: H1N1, Swine flu, Bird flu, Influenza A (and various strains there-of), Influenza B and so on.
Each strain has its own unique pattern, but it can be identified as ‘the flu’ by the severity of symptoms compared to the common cold.
Respiratory symptoms are the main aspect of this disease, although less commonly abdominal symptoms like discomfort, vomiting and diarrhoea can also be an aspect of the particular strain you have.
The sudden onset of fever is likely to be very high (over 39 degrees and can go over 40), the lethargy is profound and includes significant body aches and chills.
Whole body sweats occur to the point of drenching your clothes and needing to change. This can happen through-out the night. The headache that accompanies these symptoms can be a doozy. You can still have a very sore throat, sore ears, pain behind the eyes and you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck. The duration of these symptoms is much longer than a cold, and you may find yourself in bed for several days to a week or even two weeks if your immune system is not strong or you have other health issues. You literally feeling like you just can’t get up.
For some time after having the flu, you can experience post-viral fatigue and need to get more rest. This may continue for another week or two after the main symptoms have subsided.
It is highly contagious just like the common cold, particularly in the early stages of the onset of symptoms.
If you are going to a hospital or the doctor’s surgery, cover your mouth when you cough or ideally wear a mask. Tell the Triage nurse or Receptionist that you think you have the flu and they will give you a mask to wear in the waiting room.
Managing the flu at home
People go to hospital with the flu often because they are just alarmed at the severity of the symptoms, particularly if they are normally fit and healthy individuals. It is always best to try a few different home remedies first. This includes taking Paracetamol as directed, warm lemon and honey drinks and Vitamin C. Cold and flu capsules are helpful to relieve the severity of the symptoms but be aware that they already contain Paracetamol so don’t double up. It doesn’t matter if you are not eating as much as you normally would, but fluids are important.
However, if you have other health conditions, or the sick person is a child or elderly, the flu can have a much more detrimental affect which may need medical intervention. If you need help at home, call Yellow Door Care!
When to go to the doctor or hospital
– chest pain and difficulty breathing
– sudden dizziness
– pain in the ears which is not relieved with paracetamol
– severe vomiting
– dehydration particularly in the person who is either very young or elderly. A child who is very pale, flat and overly sleepy needs to be seen by a doctor
– check for a rash
When you are unsure what to do
Health Direct is a 24 hour, 7 days a week service operated by Registered Nurses and General Practitioners who will take a few details first and then provide you with precise advice on what to do you in your particular situation.
But I had a flu vaccination!
You can still get the flu when you have had a flu shot, although having the vaccination protects you from the most common strains currently in circulation.
The influenza virus is always evolving though, so each year a new variant is infecting people and is not yet included in the vaccine. You may have a less severe version of this virus if you have been vaccinated.
So it is definitely worthwhile having the vaccination, particularly if you are at risk.
Exposure increases risk
If you pass someone in the supermarket who is coughing and has the flu, you are less likely to get it than if you are in a room for a period of time exposed to their coughing. The more time you are with someone with the flu the more likely you are to get it.
Some people are more at risk, if they have a compromised immune system, are children or elderly.
If you are sick stay at home, do not drag yourself into work, do not share it.