Got a cold? The flu? Or whooping cough? How to know the difference between the bugs hitting La Jolla


By Ashley Mackin

The flu season is here and many have already felt its debilitating effects in some form of a cold or flu. A third option, being seen in Los Angeles County, is pertussis, aka Whooping Cough. There were 145 reported cases in San Diego County in 2012.

“This disease starts like the common cold, with runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and maybe mild cough or fever. But after one to two weeks, severe coughing can begin,” said Dr. Anil Keswani, an internal medicine physician and Scripps Health corporate vice president of ambulatory care and population health management.

“Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud ‘whooping’ sound. In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there. They may instead have life-threatening pauses in breathing (called apnea).”

Dr. Keswani said pertussis can be easily diagnosed by a physician. And currently, the cold and flu are more prevalent.

There are several symptoms that are shared by the common cold and the flu, but there are also some differences to notice, said Dr. Scott Burger, co-founder and chief medical officer of Doctors Express. Dr. Burger said the symptoms a cold and flu share include: fever, runny nose, fatigue, headache and muscle aches.

The common cold symptoms

develop gradually and include congestion, scratchy throat, sneezing, watery eyes and a fever below 102 degrees.

The flu symptoms

come on suddenly and include nausea, cough without phlegm, chills, body aches, sweating, lack of appetite, a fever above 102 degrees, vomiting and diarrhea. (The vomiting and diarrhea are more common in children.)

“The early onset of the flu season this year might have caught some people off guard, but there is still time to get a flu shot,” advised Dr. Keswani. He added it takes about two weeks after a vaccination before the body can best defend against the flu. “Vaccination, frequent hand washing, and taking extra precautions around those who are ill are the best defenses against infection.”

People who are 65 and older, children under 2, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions — including asthma, heart disease, neurological conditions, blood disorders, a weakened immune system or are morbidly obese — face a higher risk of developing flu-related complications.

“If you feel ill, I’d encourage you to check with your physician,” Dr. Keswani said. However, Scripps doctors advise against going to the emergency room unless you are suffering from severe flu symptoms. These include trouble breathing or shortness of breath; chest or abdomen pain or pressure; sudden dizziness; confusion; severe or persistent vomiting; and flu symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough.

Children, on the other hand, experience different symptoms that require emergency help. Those include trouble breathing; bluish skin color; not drinking enough fluids; not waking up or interacting; irritability to the extent they don’t want to be held; fever with a rash; not able to eat; no tears when crying; significantly fewer wet diapers than normal, and flu symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough.

Editor’s note:

This article is not intended to replace medical advice. Always consult your doctor when feeling sick.