What did you catch in school today? Along with report cards, class projects, and notes from the teacher, chances are excellent your child will also bring home a cold. Now what?
Your 8-year-old arrives home from school with a fever, a headache, a hacking cough and a look of misery on his face. Is it a bad cold? Or is it the flu?
Many people head into flu season – generally November through March – confused about what really constitutes the flu and what is actually a head cold or virus. The American Lung Association and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offer these explanations of the differences between the two illnesses.
A Cold – Colds are considered minor infections of the nose and throat, caused by different viruses. Symptoms can include:
- a runny nose
- a cough and
- a sore or scratchy throat.
Colds can last about a week, even longer in the elderly, children and people in poor health. Colds are also highly contagious, spread when droplets of fluid are transferred by touch. That’s why hand-washing is crucial, particularly around a person suffering from a cold. Complications from a cold include sinus congestion or earache.
The Flu – The flu is more severe than a cold. There are three types of influenza virus – A, B, and C, with A and B being the most severe. A and B flu viruses change all the time, and different strains afflict people around the world each year. To keep the body’s defenses working against these changing strains, a flu vaccine is highly recommended.
Flu symptoms include:
- a high fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
- muscle aches
- pronounced fatigue and weakness
- a prominent headache and
- coughing and chest discomfort.
The flu can sometimes include congestion, sneezing or a sore throat. Influenza usually lasts a week or two, although the feeling of weakness can persist for a while longer, particularly in the elderly. Again, regular and thorough hand-washing is one of the best ways to avoid coming down with the flu, as is getting the flu vaccine (which is available as an injection or a nasal spray). Complications from the flu, including bronchitis or pneumonia, can be life-threatening.
– Deirdre Wilson
Updated October 2012