How do I differentiate influenza, or “the flu,” from a regular cold?
The cold and influenza viruses may share the following symptoms: runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, sneezing, fever, cough, headache or body aches, and fatigue.
The most important differentiating factors are the timing, onset, severity and duration of these symptoms.
• Influenza is generally seasonal; most infections occur between October and May, although it will appear to a lesser extent year-round. A cold can show up anytime.
• A cold typically has a slow onset, with symptoms appearing over several days, while the flu causes sudden illness.
• Influenza usually produces more severe symptoms than a cold. A cold may not always produce a fever, while the flu usually causes a high fever (between 100 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit), profound fatigue, severe body aches, dry hacking cough and decreased appetite. Diarrhea and vomiting may also occur with the flu, especially in children.
• Influenza can result in life-threatening situations, such as severe asthma exacerbations or pneumonia. Thousands of people who are very young, very old or have medical conditions will die from the flu every year. Common colds are almost never deadly.
• Flu symptoms usually last a week or so longer than a cold.
Prescription anti-viral medications are available that can decrease the severity and duration of the flu — if it is recognized within 72 hours of onset. I always say the best medicine is prevention, so please go to your pharmacy, and get a flu shot to protect you and your loved ones from influenza this year.
Kelli L. Jordan, PharmD
Winn-Dixie Pharmacy #1329
211 Veterans Memorial Blvd.
Metairie, LA 70005