Is it a cold or the flu?

With Autumn upon us, the shorter days bring with them more coughscolds and influenza. Here is a bit of information to help you tell them apart and what you can do to help protect yourself and your loved ones.

The common cold and influenza (flu) are both respiratory illnesses,but are caused by different viruses. There are over 200 viruses that cause cold-like illnesses but just three that can cause actual flu.

In general, colds are less severe than flu, but are much more common. Colds in healthy individuals are rarely serious and usually improve on their own with rest and time.

Genuine flu, however, in certain individuals can have very serious associated symptoms, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections and hospitalisation. This is much more common in people who already have pre-existing health problems.

Cold vs flu

A lot of people wonder whether they have a cold or whether it is actually the flu. There is no definite way to tell at home but here are some pointers:

A cold usually builds over a couple of days, often with a low-grade fever (usually under 38'C), and usually improves on its own with time and rest. Typically with a cold you have a lot of nasal symptoms, initially a watery, runny nose and sneezing. This then develops into thick green phlegm.

Influenza (the flu) usually comes on quite quickly, and you rapidly feel very unwell. Typically there will be high fevers (38 to 40'C) and the person often has sweating and rigors (shaking). Flu typically has less nasal symptoms than colds but individuals often have a severe sore throat and arthralgia (muscle aches and pains).

People with the flu cannot usually carry on with everyday tasks and need to take themselves to bed to recover, and are more liable to complications such as dehydration or pneumonia. Most people with a common cold are able to carry on with simple tasks whilst feeling under the weather, taking cold remedies until they improve.


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