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Article Archive >> Featured Topics

Do I Have A Cold?...Or Is It The Flu?

Do I Have A Cold?...Or Is It The Flu?
by Jennifer LB Leese

Both influenza, commonly known as the flu, and the common cold, also known as acute viral nasopharyngitis, are viral respiratory infections, infecting the nose, throat, and lungs. Viruses are spread from person to person through airborne droplets that are sneezed out or coughed up by an infected person. Most commonly known, the viruses can be spread when a person touches an infected surface such as doorknobs, countertops, and telephones and then touches his or her nose, mouth, or eyes. These illnesses are most easily spread in crowded conditions such as schools.
Between October and March each year, between 10% and 40% of people are stricken with influenza. There are three types of influenza viruses: A, B, and C. Type A influenza causes the most serious problems in humans.
There are over 200 different known cold viruses, but most colds (30-40%) are caused by rhinoviruses. In the United States, the peak times for colds are at the start of school in the fall, in mid-winter, and again in early spring. Children catch approximately eight colds per year; adults catch roughly four per year, and seniors about two per year.
Many people confuse the flu with a bad cold. Here are a few symptoms to help you recognize the differences...

The symptoms of a common cold
* a runny or blocked nose
* sneezing
* minor throat irritation
* mild fever
* mild fatigue and weakness
* mild to moderate, hacking cough
* a feeling that your ears are blocked
* colored mucus or nasal discharge--this means that your immune system is fighting the infection.

The symptoms of influenza
Symptoms of influenza usually start suddenly with a high fever and you may feel sick enough to go to bed.
* irritation in the throat or lungs
* a dry cough
* high fever (102-104*F or 38-41*C)
* shivering
* extreme exhaustion and weakness
* headache
* sweating
* Chest discomfort
* severe muscle aches
The flu tends to make the whole body ache, whereas the common cold usually affects the nose and throat only.
Vaccination against influenza with a flu vaccine is strongly recommended for high-risk groups, such as children and the elderly, however, it is possible to get vaccinated and still get influenza.

Length of being contagious
People infected with an influenza or cold virus become contagious 24 hours after the virus enters the body (often before symptoms appear). Adults remain infectious for about 6 days, and children remain infectious for up to 10 days.

How can you prevent getting a common cold?
* Practice preventative measures: wash your hands, and keep your fingers away from your eyes and nose.
* Avoid close contact with cold sufferers.
* Help your immune system by getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, eating well-balanced meals, sleeping for 7-8 hours per night, and getting regular exercise.
* Consult your doctor for an annual flu injection. Although not 100% effective, the vaccination dramatically lessens the severity of the flu (but has no effect on the common cold).

Practical ways to treat the symptoms of common colds and flu
Don't use antibiotics
Antibiotics won't help a common cold or flu. Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria and do not have any effect on viruses such as colds and flu. Most viruses are fought and overcome by your immune system. If you have a cold--use common sense.
Treat the symptoms
Over-the-counter cold remedies, decongestants and simple pain relievers may relieve some cold symptoms, but will not prevent, cure, or even shorten the illness. However, they can make you feel better!
Drink plenty of fluids
Drinking plenty of fluids is essential to prevent dehydration. Hot honey and lemon drinks are a great way to soothe the throat and help to clear the nasal passages and sinuses. Also try inhaling steam. To assist with a sore throat, try throat lozenges, gargles and throat sprays.
Take it easy
Shifting into lower gear by staying at home--with plenty of rest--is a good idea until you're feeling better. You won't be popular if you spread your cold around the work place. Likewise if you have children who are sick, keep them at home. Kids spread germs quickly.

Boost your immunity
Tired of catching every cold that goes around the office? The best treatment is often prevention. Below are a few methods to boosting your immune system.
Herbal Remedies
Traditional herbs are now being included in some over-the-counter cold remedies and, while they may help in treating the symptoms of colds and flu, some can help to build up your immune system too.
Astragalus has been shown to boost immune function. In one US study conducted at the University of Texas Medical Centre in Houston, scientists compared the damaged immune cells of cancer patients against those of healthy adults. They found that astragalus extract was able to restore the function of the damaged cells.
A positive outlook
Several studies have shown that a positive outlook on life can help ward off colds, flu, and infections. At the University of California, a study found that students with an optimistic outlook on life had higher levels of immune-system fighters than pessimistic students.
Show your emotions
Research has shown that sharing your emotions can be good for your health. In one study conducted at the University of Colorado in the US, researchers found that people who repressed their emotions after a traumatic event had lowered immune systems compared to those who shared their feelings.
If you don't feel like sharing your innermost thoughts with others, keep a stress journal. Psychologist Professor James W. Pennebaker at the University of Texas conducted several studies which show writing down your worries can improve immune function.
Eat fruit and vegetables
If your body is lacking in certain nutrients, your immune system will suffer. So eat plenty of fruit and vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin, oranges, apricots, spinach, onion, garlic, and berries. Also, be sure to get plenty of zinc and iron, which is found in lean red meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, and whole grains.
Curb your stress
During a study conducted at the University of Newcastle, researchers took blood samples from students and measured their levels of stress hormones, antibodies, and minor ailments throughout the semester. When the tests were undertaken at exam time, the researchers found higher levels of stress hormones and lower levels of immune system functioning in the students.
Take vitamin E
A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that elderly people who took 200IU of vitamin E for one year got 20 percent less colds than those who didn't. Foods that contain vitamin E include peanuts, avocados, sunflower seeds and almonds. However, in order to achieve the 200IU requirement, you'll need to take a vitamin E supplement.
Work out, but don't overdo it
While professional athletes and those who train intensely have weakened immune systems, studies show that moderate exercise strengthens the immune system.
A study reported in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that people who exercised regularly had about 25 percent fewer colds than those who seldom or never exercised.
A good night's sleep
In Germany, a study has found that a good night's sleep can also significantly boost the immune system. During the study, 19 men and women were vaccinated against hepatitis A and had their levels of hepatitis antibodies measured over 28 days.
Half the group got a full night's sleep after immunization, while the other half were kept awake that night and the following day. After four weeks, the well-rested group, on average, had nearly twice the antibody level as the sleep-deprived group.
Researchers have said that the results show that a well-rested person's immune system may respond more strongly than that of a sleep-deprived person's.

You should contact your doctor if you...
* are a child with a sore throat or cough
* are in a high-risk group (e.g., people with other medical conditions or weakened immune systems--the elderly and very young children)
* have a sore throat that lasts more than two days
* have a runny nose that lasts more than 10 days or if you have severe facial pain or headache
* have a cough that lasts more than 7-10 days
* have a high fever (higher than 101.3*F (38.5*C)) that lasts more than 4 days
* have a high fever return within 4-14 days
* have difficulty breathing

Source: Ninemsn, iVillage, WebMD, and National Prescribing Service

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