Cold and flu season officially starts in October and lasts until April, but it is possible to catch the common cold or influenza any time of the year.
Not sure what you might have? Check your symptoms on the handy chart below!
Is it a Cold or the Flu?
|Characteristic, high (102-104 F); lasts three to four days
|General aches and pains
|Usual, often severe
|Can last two to three weeks
|Prostration (extreme exhaustion)
|Early and prominent
|Chest discomfort, cough
|Mild to moderate, hacking cough
|Common, can become severe
|Sinus congestion, earache
The best ways to prevent the common cold are good hand hygiene (washing well and often) and avoiding close contact with people who have colds or other respiratory infections.
A cold usually includes a runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, and coughing which can last for up to two weeks. The common cold can be caused by more than 200 viruses, but is most often a result of the rhinovirus. The hallmark of a cold is a runny nose. When germs that cause colds first infect the nose and sinuses, the nose makes clear mucus. This helps wash the germs from the nose and sinuses. After two or three days, the body’s immune cells fight back, changing the mucus to a white or yellow color. As the bacteria that live in the nose grow back, they may also be found in the mucus, which changes the mucus to a greenish color. This is normal and does not mean you need antibiotics.
Most common colds resolve themselves with rest, hydration, and over-the-counter medications. However, the CDC recommends seeing a healthcare provider if you have a temperature higher than 100.4° F, symptoms that last more than 10 days, or symptoms that are not relieved by over-the-counter medicines.
Antibiotics are needed only if your healthcare provider tells you that you have a bacterial infection. Remember that the common cold is most often caused by a virus, which does not respond to antibiotics. Your healthcare provider may prescribe other medicine or give tips to help with a cold’s symptoms, but antibiotics are not needed to treat a cold or runny nose. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can be harmful. Each time you take an antibiotic, the bacteria that normally live in your body (on the skin, in the intestine, in the mouth and nose, etc.) are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics. Common antibiotics cannot kill infections caused by these resistant germs.
Rest, over-the-counter medicines and other self-care methods may help you feel better. Remember, always use over-the-counter products as directed.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose. You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
If you become ill with influenza symptoms you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to seek medical care. Most people are able to recover at home from the flu without medical care. However, some people are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications. They are:children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people who have asthma, neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, chronic lung disease, blood disorders, and heart disease.
Since the flu is caused by viruses antibiotics will not work to fight the infection, antiviral drugs however can treat your illness. These drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. Antiviral drugs work best when started in the first 2 days of symptoms to treat people who are very sick (such as those who are hospitalized) or people who are sick with flu symptoms and who are at increased risk of severe flu illness (see list above). Antiviral drugs are available by prescription only and require you to see a healthcare provider first.
If you become ill with influenza symptoms you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to seek medical care. Most people are able to recover at home from the flu without medical care.
A flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research indicates will be most common. There are also many everyday actions that you can take to prevent the spread of flu viruses including covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, washing your hands often, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, avoiding close contact with sick people, and staying home if you are sick to avoid spreading flu to others.