Achoo! Do you have a cold or flu?
21st November 2013
fluThe winter season for the majority of the Northern Hemisphere is not a pleasant time. Temperatures often plunge into the minuses as snow makes a regular appearance, as does ice, resulting in inevitable pandemonium for vehicle drivers and walking pedestrians. Also prevalent at this time of the year are a huge number of colds, cases of flu, and various respiratory illnesses. Contagious viruses are of course active throughout the year, but winter is when we are most vulnerable. When it is cold, many people understandably choose to stay indoors, meaning a virus can spread rapidly through households. Flu is transmitted between people when the infected individual then sneezes or coughs, releasing droplets into the air. Even touching a surface where the virus has been deposited can you put at risk of developing said virus. It is worth noting there is a difference between a ‘cold’ and the flu, although they have some of the same symptoms and thus, are often mistakenly self-diagnosed. It is thought that around a third of Brits assume they just have a ‘bad cold’, when it is in fact the flu. This is a worrying statistic as thousands die each year from complications arising from flu. A runny nose, coughing, a sore throat and sneezing are characteristics most common in colds, and usually develop over one or two days, lasting no more than a few days. However, some colds may last for as long as two weeks. Flu usually strikes more suddenly than a common cold, symptoms are more serious and it lasts for a longer period of time. Flu symptoms include: sudden fever of 38-40°C (100-104°F), aches and pains in muscles and joints, sweats, a dry cough, headache and a feeling of exhaustion/needing to lie down. One to three days following infection is the time when flu symptoms rear their ugly head, but many find they recover within one week, but a feeling of tiredness lingers for slightly longer than this. Severe colds may cause muscle aches and fever, which explains why many people struggle to differentiate the two. Regardless of if it is a cold or flu you have, you must seek medical help if you also have chronic health condition such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, or are experiencing a high fever, a severe headache, or abdominal or chest pain. You can take preventative steps though to try and protect yourself and those around you by: . Coughing or sneezing into a tissue. . Disposing of used tissues straight away. . Washing hands as soon as possible. . Having a flu jab every year if you're in an at-risk group (i.e. children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 65, pregnant women). Painkillers, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin, can help to ease your symptoms if you just have a cold – although aspirin should not be given to anyone under the age of 16. You should also rest, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthily (a low-fat, high-fibre diet is generally advised). You can usually treat yourself in the comfort of your own home if you have the flu. Make sure to get plenty of rest (most people know when they feel fit enough to carry on with their normal activities), keep yourself warm, and drink plenty of fluids. Paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen can help to lower your high temperature and relieve aches if you are unwell with a fever. Prescription antiviral medications such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir) are also widely used for both flu prevention and treatment. Tamiflu stops the chemical neuraminidase - made by the influenzavirus - from having an impact that is. The virus relies on neuraminidase to spread in the airways, but because Tamiflu blocks neuraminidase from having an effect, the spread of the influenzavirus in the airways is reduced and the body's immune system is more easily able clear-up the infection.