You’ve got a sore throat, cough, runny nose and ache all over. Is it a cold, or is it the flu? It can sometimes be tough to tell.
Colds and flu are caused by different viruses, but they share a number of symptoms. Generally, flu is more severe and comes on quickly. If you’re an adult, having a temperature above 101 degrees is an indication that you have flu. Body and muscle aches are also more common with flu.
With a cold, you are usually sick for a week — and contagious for the first three days that you have symptoms. A cold usually begins with a sore throat, which usually goes away after a couple of days. The sore throat is followed by sneezing, runny nose and congestion, with a cough coming on the fourth or fifth day.
Flu symptoms include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion and cough. After two to five days, flu symptoms usually improve, but it’s not unusual to feel rundown for a week or more. A common complication is pneumonia, which may be signaled by shortness of breath. If you have shortness of breath, or a fever that comes back after being gone for a day or two, check with your doctor.
You can treat your cold or flu symptoms with common sense measures such as drinking plenty of fluids, resting, using saline nasal drops and gargling salt water. But you may require medical treatment if your fever lasts more than three days, you have painful swallowing, a persistent cough that lingers for two or three weeks, or persistent congestion and headaches. Those can be signs of other medical conditions, such as strep throat.
Taking Tamiflu, available by prescription, within 48 hours of showing symptoms can reduce those symptoms, although it is not a substitute for a flu shot.
Important prevention measures include:
▪ Hand washing by rubbing your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song). An alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also effective.
▪ Disinfect your kitchen and bathroom countertops and children’s toys.
▪ Use tissues once, discard and then wash your hands.
▪ Get a flu shot.
It’s not too late to get a flu shot. The vaccine is an effective way of preventing the flu for yourself as well as your family and co-workers.
Dr. Wajdi Kfoury is an infectious disease specialist with Baptist Health Medical Group Infectious Disease in Corbin.