Do I Have A Cold Or The Flu?

Is It A Cold Or The Flu?

On average we catch 2 to 5 colds a year. Fall and winter are the busiest seasons for bugs. Over 200 types of virus can cause the 'common' cold, but rhinoviruses are the winners. These cook best at 33°C (91°F), which is the ambient temperature in the nose, so no wonder they prosper. Other likely candidates are coronavirus, adenovirus and the influenza virus. So how do you catch a cold or flu? Science suggests these bugs grow best in fall and winter temperatures, and as we tend to cluster indoors when the temperature drops, we provide an environment in which they party. Physical and psychological stress are also implicated as they lower our immune response to infection (read about the effects of stress on the body for more about this). To physically 'catch' a cold or flu, you need to inhale infected mucus or touch an infected surface and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes. Beware - a simple sneeze can contain up to 100,000 virus particles and can travel 9 meters (30 feet). In turn, these little particles can live on both the skin surface or the surface of an object for up to 3 hours.

So Which Do I Have?

Chances are that if you have a fever of 38°C (100°F) or more, sweats, aches and pains, a headache, a dry cough, a sore throat and fatigue, you probably have flu. You feel jet lagged, and you wouldn't look twice at an attractive man on the bus. On the other hand, if you feel bunged up but don't have a high temperature, you are likely to have what one billion Americans suffer from annually... a cold.

If it really is the flu, stay home, drink lots of non-alcoholic fluids, ditch the diet, eat carbohydrates and bin the gym; rest is the best medicine. Take simple analgesia such as paracetamol or ibuprofen for aches and fevers - it's safe to take them together, but always read the label and never exceed the daily dose no matter how desperate you feel. And remember that antibiotics won't help as they don't work for viruses. The seasonal flu shot helps to prevent flu in 70 to 90 per cent of cases and is a must if you have a condition that lowers your immunity. The jab takes about two weeks to become fully functional.

Comparing Symptoms Of Colds And Flus

Symptom Cold Flu
Fever Rare Yes, high (100 to 102 F); lasts 3 or 4 days.
Headache Rare Yes, it may be dull or severe.
General Aches Slight achiness Severe aches and pains.
Fatigue Mild fatigue Yes and can last up to 3 weeks.
Stuffed Nose Yes, common. Maybe, sometimes.
Sneezing Yes, common. Maybe, sometimes.
Sore Throat Yes, common. Maybe, sometimes.
Chest Discomfort/Cough Mild, may be a hacking cough. Yes, quite common and can be severe

Tips For Avoiding Flus And Colds

- Invest in a hand sanitizer and keep those hands clean.
- Wipe down communal areas in the home with antiviral/antibacterial wipes.
- Buy tissues, use them and remember to bin them rather than just leaving them in your purse.
- If you find yourself in a crowded area and someone sneezes or coughs near you, hold your breath for as long as possible to avoid inhaling the virus.
- Eat healthily, take lots of exercise and sleep - it's the best preventative medicine. Zinc, vitamin C, echinacea, cod liver oil and honey are all cited as being helpful. Science is somewhat in dispute about this, but one thing is for sure, they do no harm.

If You Have A Cold Or Flu: Treatment Tips

How to treat a cold
How to treat flu
How to treat sore throats
How to treat coughs
How to lower body temperature

Swine flu

2009 saw swine flu strike with a vengeance, and we went from an outbreak - a large collection of cases in a locality - to a pandemic, where a disease is widespread across a country or a continent. Just like regular flu, swine flu proved to be very contagious and without cure. Antiviral treatments such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) were given in an effort to alleviate symptoms and in many cases shorten the illness by one to two days. Although these drugs have not been proven to prevent flu, they are sometimes given to people who have been in contact with the virus to improve their defenses. An inhaled antiviral agent called zanamivir (Relenza) can be used for pregnant women as oseltamivir may damage the unborn baby. Because these drugs have been used on a widespread basis, there have been concerns that swine flu could become resistant to them and render them useless. For this reason, they should not be taken unless it's pretty certain you have swine flu. The doctor can diagnose it by means of a swab, but the results are not instant, so the decision of whether to treat often has to be made on the spot during the consultation.

• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions

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