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So, what the difference between a cold or the flu?

Wondering what the differences are between someone who has a common cold, and someone who has the flu (aka, influenza)? Check it out below.

Matt has a runny nose and sore throat. He’s sneezing and reports he’s had some coughing, especially when he lays down at night. He thinks he might have had a fever, but didn’t check it with a thermometer. He’s had his symptoms about a week and he says today feels like he’s starting to feel a little bit better.

Kate can hardly move around the house, she just wants to lie in bed. She’s bundled in several layers and still cold under the comforter. She was fine yesterday morning, but by the afternoon she felt like she had been hit by a truck. She’s had a temperature of 102 consistently for the last 24 hours and a dry cough. She says everything hurts, even her bones.

Matt has a cold.

Kate has influenza.

A cold can still feel miserable, but usually the person can still do most of their normal activities without too much trouble. The symptoms come on gradually, and can linger up to three weeks, especially the cough. Even though the symptoms linger, they are mild. The worst of the symptoms are over within seven to 10 days. Matt is contagious while he has those symptoms, but he is not in danger.

Influenza, however, feels and is much more serious. Kate’s symptoms came on quickly because influenza tends to be a crueler virus, especially influenza A. Her body tries to protect itself by creating a high fever to kill the virus, and her whole body aches with the effort. Heat is the enemy of the virus, so her body tells her she is cold because this makes her create more heat through layers of clothing and blankets. With such a focus on the influenza virus, her immune system doesn’t have a lot of reserve left for any other infectious threats. If she gets in to the doctor now, while the symptoms are still new, he may prescribe an antiviral to help her recover faster.

Matt is normally healthy so he will probably make a full recovery in the next couple of days.

Kate is normally healthy, but this illness has weakened her to a point that she is at risk for other infections. Influenza is therefore much more dangerous for the elderly, the very young and anyone with chronic respiratory conditions or conditions that weaken the immune system (like cancer).

It is extremely important that people with a cold or flu do a very good job washing their hands frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing or wiping your nose. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the inside of your elbow, not into your hands or into the air around you. Germs can travel beyond 20 feet after coughing! Caregivers also need to be diligent to clean their hands after providing any kind of care.

Influenza vaccination saves lives. A community that is vaccinated has protected its vulnerable citizens. It also protects you from getting sick, or from getting severely sick.

The flu vaccination is available at all CCMG clinics as part of a regular appointment or a specific immunization visit. The cost is $40 for self-pay, or the clinic will file with your insurance. To learn more about how to protect yourself from the flu, visit www.cchwyo.org/flu411.

Kate Craig, BSN, RN, CCH Infection PreventionistArticle written by Kate Craig, BSN, RN, CCH Infection Preventionist

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