What's the difference between a cold and the flu?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that affects from 5 percent to 20 percent of the United States population every year and accounts for more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths. The flu usually comes on suddenly and may include symptoms such as fever (usually high), headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and muscle aches. A cold on the other hand will typically have a more gradual onset of nasal congestion without the high fever and symptoms are generally milder. Unlike the flu, a cold will generally not result in serious health problems.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each fall, preferably in October or November but even later may still be beneficial. Almost anyone who wants to reduce their chances of flu can be vaccinated, but it is recommended for the following groups:
Over 50 years of age
- Residents of nursing homes or long term care facilities
- Adults and children six months and older with chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma
- Adults and children six months and older with a chronic metabolic disease (like diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system such as HIV/AIDS
- Children six months to 18 years of age on long-term aspirin therapy
- Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season
- All children six to 59 months of age and their household contacts
- People with any condition that can compromise respiratory function
- People who can transmit flu to others at high risk for complications (like health care workers)
Remember to please consult your physician about the availability of this year’s vaccine and to determine if you are an appropriate candidate for vaccination. If you are one of the unfortunate individuals to still end up with the flu it is important to ensure adequate rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Those who experience complications or have symptoms unrelieved with the above measures should be evaluated by their health care provider or urgent care/emergency department.
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