This year’s flu season has been one of the worst in recent memory, and it doesn’t appear to be losing steam. The most recent numbers from the Center for Disease Control show that forty-nine states and Puerto Rico are all reporting widespread influenza. And the number of deaths attributed to the virus is higher than average this year. But just because you have a cough and feel lousy doesn’t necessarily mean you have the flu. The common cold can pack a pretty uncommon punch if your immune system isn’t in tip-top shape. Many of the symptoms are the same as those of the flu, but they’re both treated differently…so it pays to know a little bit about both.
Both are respiratory infections, and both are caused by a virus. Each of them can cause a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, and head and body aches. If your symptoms also include things like sneezing and watery eyes, it’s likely that you have a common cold. Those are cold symptoms. If body aches are also accompanied by sore joints and muscles, however…or if your body temperature fluctuates from hot to cold and you have a high fever, then you may have the flu. It’s the fever that’s the giveaway — you don’t generally see someone with a cold who's also suffering from a hundred-plus-degree fever.
If you’re one of the many people who’s not feeling so hot right now and are wondering what’s wrong, here are a few important things to keep in mind.
- If your symptoms come on gradually over a few days and are bearable, you may have a cold. It should clear up in seven to ten days.
- Symptoms that come on suddenly and are accompanied by a high fever may mean flu. Flu symptoms generally last anywhere from one to two weeks.
- If your symptoms are severe, or if they last longer than usual, see your doctor. He or she may prescribe an anti-viral medication. Antibiotics aren't effective in treating cold and flu.
- Get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids. Stay home from school or work until you’re feeling better.
Yes, the best thing you can do during this horrific cold and flu season is to stay healthy! It’s super important to keep your distance from people who might be sick, especially given recent reporting about how easy it is for the flu to spread through the air. Get the flu shot. Make sure you wash your hands often with soap and water. But also do things to keep your immune system healthy, too. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies, get lots of sleep, and force yourself to get some exercise even in the cold weather.