What is the difference between Colds and Flu?
A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you feel quite ill for a few days to two weeks. The flu can also result in serious health problems such as pneumonia and hospitalisation.
It can be difficult to distinguish between the common cold and flu. The main difference is that the symptoms of influenza come on rapidly and are typically accompanied by muscle aches and a fever. The common cold has a more gradual onset and is associated with a runny nose, sneezing and blocked nasal passages.
A common cold, including chest cold and head cold, can be caused by one of over 200 viruses. Flu season usually occurs in Ireland from October to April.
What are the most common cold symptoms?
Cold symptoms usually begin with a sore throat, which usually goes away after a day or two. Nasal symptoms, runny nose, and congestion follow, along with a cough, by the fourth and fifth days.
Fever is uncommon in adults, but a slight fever is possible. Children are more likely to have a fever with a cold.
With cold symptoms, the nose teems with watery nasal secretions for the first few days. Later, these become thicker and darker. Dark mucus is natural and does not usually mean an individual has developed a bacterial infection, such as a sinus infection. Several hundred different viruses may cause your cold symptoms.
How long do cold symptoms last?
Cold symptoms usually last for about a week. During the first three days that someone has cold symptoms, they are contagious. This means they can pass the cold to others, so they should be advised to stay at home and get some much-needed rest.
What are common flu symptoms?
Flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on quickly. Symptoms of flu include sore throat, fever, headache, muscle aches and soreness, congestion, and cough. Swine flu in particular is also associated with vomiting and diarrhoea.
Most flu symptoms gradually improve over two to five days, but it’s not uncommon to feel run down for a week or more. A common complication of the flu is pneumonia, particularly in the young, elderly, or people with lung or heart problems. If you notice shortness of breath, referral should be made to the doctor. Another common sign of pneumonia is fever that comes back after having been gone for a day or two.
Just like cold viruses, flu viruses enter the body through the mucous membranes of the nose, eyes or mouth. Every time someone touches their hand to one of these areas, they could be infecting themselves with a virus. So it is very important to keep hands germ-free with frequent washing to prevent both cold & flu symptoms.
Sore throat: These are usually caused by bacterial or viral infections and can be among the first signs of coming down with a cold or flu.
Fever: A fever is a common symptom of the flu and if the body temperature is above 100.4 F (38C) individuals are advised to take steps to bring it down.
Bodily aches and pains: One of the sure signs that someone is suffering from flu rather than a cold is the general onset of aches and pains.
How is flu spread?
A virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs causes flu. Just like a cold virus, flu is usually spread from one person to the next when the infected person coughs or sneezes. The flu virus is passed from the lungs, throat or nose of one person through the air to another. In addition, when people touch a surface, or a person, that’s contaminated with flu germs and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth, they infect themselves with the flu virus.
As the virus can spread through sneezing, coughing, contaminated hands or surfaces, ensuring good hygiene practices will help such as washing hands. To reduce spread, it is important that if someone has the flu or a cold that they cover their nose and mouth preferably with a tissue when they cough and sneeze and wash their hands afterward for at least 10 seconds or use an alcohol-based rub. Tissues need to be bagged and disposed of appropriately if they are used outside the home, otherwise, they can be disposed of in the normal household waste.
Who is at risk of influenza?
Influenza can affect all ages however it has more severe consequences in the following groups:
- Older people (aged 65 years and over)
- People defined as being high risk. High-risk groups include those with:
- Chronic heart conditions
- Chronic respiratory disease including cystic fibrosis and moderate to severe asthma
- Chronic renal disease
- Chronic liver disease
- Chronic neurological disorders
- Morbid obesity (body mass index (BMI) +40)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Pregnant women
- Those who have weakened immune systems
- Children with any condition which can affect respiratory function (e.g. spinal cord injury, seizure disorder) especially those attending special schools/ day centres
- Children on long term aspirin therapy
All of the above groups of people are targeted for influenza vaccination.
For the latest information on seasonal influenza vaccination view the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) guidelines on influenza www.hpsc.ie. Further information is also available on the National Immunisation Office’s website, www.immunisation.ie.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections that are caused by bacteria (germs). Antibiotics cannot treat infections caused by viruses (such as colds and the flu). Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them, like for a cold and flu is a waste.
Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed might mean that they won’t work when you really need them for a serious infection. If you take many courses of antibiotics, bacteria can change so that the antibiotic does not work against them anymore. These bacteria are said to be “resistant” to this antibiotic and are much harder to treat.
Why should I worry about antibiotic resistance?
If you get an infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics, your infection can last longer. Instead of getting better, your infection might get worse. You might have to take different medicines or need to be treated in hospital.
When are antibiotics not needed?
Most common infections are caused by viruses. This includes all colds, most coughs, sore throats, ear infections and diarrhoea. Antibiotics do not work against these infections. Most of these illnesses get better themselves without antibiotics.
As well as putting yourself, or your child, at risk of an infection that can’t be treated, taking antibiotics when they are not needed puts you at risk of side effects. About one in five people who take antibiotics develop side effects, such as a rash, upset stomach or diarrhoea.
Don’t ask your doctor to give you or your child antibiotics for an infection caused by a virus. Instead, ask your doctor or your pharmacist what you can do to feel better. Your local pharmacist can advise on over-the-counter medications to relieve the symptoms.