Most viral respiratory infections, like the common cold, usually come and go within a few days, with no lasting effects. But influenza (flu) is a disease that can cause serious health problems and can result in hospitalization or death.
You can fight back by adopting healthy habits and by using medicines and vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to combat and help prevent the flu.
If you are generally healthy, here’s how to tell if you have a cold or the flu, and when to seek medical care.
Symptoms of Colds and Flu
Flu and cold viruses spread mainly by droplets, when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. You also can get infected by touching a surface or object that has flu viruses on it, such as a door handle, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Flu season in the United States may begin as early as October and can last as late as May, and generally peaks between December and February.
Colds: Symptoms of colds usually are a stuffy or runny nose and sneezing. Other symptoms include coughing, a scratchy throat, and watery eyes. There is no vaccine to prevent colds, which come on gradually and often spread through everyday contact.
Flu: Symptoms of the flu come on suddenly and can include fever, headache, chills, dry cough, sore throat, body or muscle aches, tiredness, and feeling generally miserable. Like the viruses that cause a cold, flu viruses can cause a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. Young children also may experience nausea and vomiting.
Check with your health care provider promptly if you are at high risk for flu-related complications and you have flu symptoms — or if you have flu symptoms that do not improve. People at high risk include:
- Children younger than 5 years, but especially those younger than age 2
- Pregnant women
- People with certain chronic health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart or lung disease)
- People age 65 or older
- Avoid close contact.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you’re sick.
If possible, always try and stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
- Cover your mouth and nose while you are coughing or sneezing.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have a tissue, use the crook of your elbow instead of your hands. Fact: A sneeze can travel up to sixty miles an hour.
- Clean your hands often.
Washing your hands often – and not just after you have coughed or sneezed. This will help protect you from germs. Door knobs, handrails, shopping cart handles and more are surfaces that flu germs can be found on during the season. If soap and water aren’t available, use an antibacterial hand rub.
- Get your Flu Vaccine Annually.
Germs are often spread when a person touches something contaminated and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth. Prepare and protect yourself by getting a vaccination. If you do catch the flu bug, an online doctor visit is a simple, fast and convenient way to get help. Fact: The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, observed that people touch their faces an average of 3.5 times per hour, and touch common objects an average of 3.3 times per hour. This means that people likely get germs on their hands more frequently than they wash germs off their hands!
- Practice other good health habits.
Practice makes perfect! Frequently clean and disinfect touched surfaces at home, school and work, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, stay physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat good food.
So now that you have the facts, we hope that you stay healthy and have an uneventful cold and flu season!