– From County News ServiceWe’ve all heard them. Your co-worker or classmate, sniffling and hacking up a storm. You ask, partly out of genuine concern, if maybe she (let’s say) shouldn’t be taking the day off. She turns puffy red eyes to you and croaks: “I’m not contagious.”
Or maybe he (to pick on someone else) says, “It’s just a cold.”
But how do they know? Typically, they don’t – either what they have or its chances of spreading.
And it really does not matter if it’s the flu or a cold. Both are contagious and people should stay away from places where they can infect others.
“If you are sick with a cold or the flu, the best thing to do is stay at home. You should rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods, and let the symptoms run their course,” said Wilma Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “If your symptoms are serious or if you have chronic health conditions, you should contact your doctor.”
The flu and common cold have similar symptoms so distinguishing one from the other can be hard, at first. But there some differences.
If you get the flu, you are likely to feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever (though not always) or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- Vomiting and diarrhea (uncommon in adults, but more common in children)
On the other hand, if you get the common cold you are likely to get:
- Sore throat and a runny nose
- Coughing and sneezing
- Watery eyes
- Head and body aches
- Slight fever (uncommon in adults, more likely in children)
Colds are the leading reason why children miss school and adults call in sick from work. A cold typically lasts anywhere between four to seven days, and it’s most contagious the first two days after symptoms develop. But flu symptoms can last up to two weeks and a person can be contagious for 24 hours before symptoms appear. And you will feel like you can’t move a muscle.
“Flu symptoms are usually more severe and come on quickly,” Wooten added. “People generally feel much worse with influenza and should not return to work until 24 hours after the fever has disappeared on its own.”
Complications from the common cold can result in sinus congestion and/or a middle ear infection. The flu can generate sinusitis, bronchitis, ear infection, pneumonia and can be life-threatening, especially for the elderly, young children, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and HIV.
Another shared characteristic of flu and colds is that they can enter your body through the mucous membranes. So, if you touch your nose, eyes or mouth after touching something that infected colleague has handled, you could get sick.
That is why you should wash your hands frequently and not touch your face or rub your eyes.
It is helpful to remember to cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm, not into your hands. Teach children to do the same.
One other difference between a cold and the flu is there is no vaccine against the common cold, but it is recommended you should get a shot against the flu every year.
County News Service reports the influenza vaccine won’t give you the flu. That is a myth, and that it takes two weeks for immunity to develop so if you are exposed to the flu virus during that time, you could get sick.
Flu activity in the region remains high, so if you have not gotten your shot, now is the time to do it. Don’t forget that the flu season can last until late March or early April.
“The best protection against the flu is getting vaccinated,” Wooten said. “It is not too late to get immunized.”