What is the difference between a cold and the flu?
With lots of bugs floating around, how do you know if you have a cold or the flu?
The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.
In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.
Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.
How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offered the following guide to tell the two illnesses apart. They are listed by the symptoms, cold versus the flu.
• Fever – sometimes, usually mild vs. usually, higher (100-102 F; occasionally higher, especially in young children); lasts three to four days)
• Headache – occasionally vs. common
• General aches, pains – slight vs. usual; often severe
• Fatigue, weakness – sometimes vs. usual; can last two to three weeks
• Extreme Exhaustion – Never vs. Usual; at the beginning of the illness
• Stuffy nose – common vs. sometimes
• Sneezing – Usual vs. Sometimes
• Sore throat – common vs. sometimes
• Chest discomfort, cough – mild to moderate; hacking cough vs. common; can become severe
Complications – sinus congestion; middle ear infection vs. sinusitis, bronchitis, ear infection, pneumonia; can be life-threatening
Prevention – wash hands often; avoid close contact with anyone with a cold vs. Wash hands often; avoid close contact with anyone who has flu symptoms; get the annual flu vaccine
Treatment – decongestants; pain reliever/fever reducer medicines vs. decongestants, pain relievers, or fever reducers are available over the counter; over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to young children; prescription antiviral drugs for flu may be given in some cases; call your doctor for more information about treatment.
If you haven’t had your flu shot, its not to late. Local and state health officials are urging all Kansans to get a flu vaccine.
“It is important to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu, especially as you gather with family and friends during the holidays,” said Barton County Health Director Shelly Schneider. “There is still time to get vaccinated.”
In Kansas, influenza activity typically peaks during this time of the year. According to data from the Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet), influenza-like illness in Kansas is just below the national rate. To date, there have been no confirmed influenza cases tested by KDHE.
But, that doesn’t mean there won’t be, Schneider said.
“We haven’t seen a huge hit yet,” she said, referring to reports from area health care providers. “But I can’t imagine it isn’t coming.”
And Barton County is ready. “We still have plenty of vaccine available,” Schneider said.
According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. Everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu.
Vaccination is especially important for those at high risk for complication including young children, pregnant women, adults 65 years and older, and anyone with chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease and diabetes.
Those caring for, or in regular contact with, an infant less than six months of age or persons at high risk for complications should also be immunized.
On average, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year. Last year, 95 people in Kansas died as a direct result of the flu. This was the highest number of influenza deaths in the last 20 years in Kansas.
“Getting a flu vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself and those who are at high risk,” said Susan Mosier, KDHE secretary and state health officer. “Flu season is here and before it becomes widespread, take the opportunity to get your vaccine now.”
In the U.S., flu activity usually begins in October. It increases at this time of year, peaks in January or February, and can last as late as May.
On average, five to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu yearly, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with complications of flu. During the peak of the 2013-2014 influenza season in Kansas, approximately six percent of all health care visits in ILINet clinics were due to influenza-like illness. “If one is at high risk for serious complications of flu and develop symptoms, they should contact their health care provider immediately,” Schneider said. Treatment with prescription antiviral medication can shorten the illness and reduce the risk of complications.
The vaccines are available during Health Department business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office is located at 1300 Kansas Ave. in Great Bend.
For more information, contact the department at 620-793-1902.
Visit www.kdheks.gov/flu for more flu facts.