Don’t let the Cold or Flu Sneak Up on You
With the onset of fall and winter comes the cold and flu season,
which can be a serious illnesses that lead to life threatening
problems for persons of all ages. In the United States, most colds
occur during the fall and winter. Beginning in late August or early September, the incidence of colds increases slowly for a few weeks and remains high until March or April,
when it declines. The seasonal variation may relate to the opening of schools and to cold weather, which prompt
people to spend more time indoors and increase the chances that viruses will spread from person to person.
Unfortunately, most of us know too well the awful fatigue, stuffy or runny nose, headaches and body aches that
wipe us out. However, it’s sometimes hard to determine if we are suffering from a cold, the flu and/or a more
serious condition. Also, we wonder if we should get the flu vaccine will it really help? Most of all we want to
know how to feel better and get back to our regular routine.
The Common Cold
This is probably the most common illness, especially in the winter months. The sneezing, scratchy throat, and
runny nose – everyone knows the first signs of a cold. Although the common cold is usually mild, with
symptoms lasting one to two weeks, it is a leading cause of doctor visits and of school and job absenteeism.
What is the Flu and how do I know if I have it?
Influenza (flu) is a respiratory disease caused by influenza virus infection. The types or strains, of influenza
virus that cause illness may change from year to year, or even within the same year. People who get flu may
have fever, chills, headaches, dry cough, and muscle aches, and may be sick for several days to a week or more.
Most people recover completely. However, for some people, especially the elderly or those with chronic
illnesses, the flu may be especially severe and pneumonia or other complications, including death, may occur.
What is the Flu Vaccine and should I take It?
The regular flu vaccine contains killed influenza virus of the types selected by the US Public Health Service and
the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research of the US Food and Drug Administration. The types of virus
included are those that have most recently been causing influenza and changes every year. The vaccine will
not give you flu because it is a killed virus vaccine. As with any vaccine, flu vaccine may not protect 100 % of
all susceptible individuals, it is thought that even if you get the flu and have been vaccinated your symptoms
will not be as severe and last for a shorter time.
Risks & Possible Side Effects
As with any medical intervention, there are potential risks associated with the vaccination. There are many
“wives tales” and stories about people that have gotten the flu vaccine and their reactions. However, each year millions of people receive the vaccine and benefit from the vaccination. Influenza vaccine generally causes only
mild side effects that occur at low frequency. Most commonly, the reactions may be a sore or tender arm where
the injection was given, or possibly fever, chills, headache, or muscle aches. These side effects usually last 24
to 48 hours. Most people who receive the vaccine either have no reaction or only mild reactions. There is a
possibility, as with any vaccine or drug, that an allergic or other serious reaction, or even death, could occur.
Also, medical events completely unrelated to the vaccine may occur coincidentally following vaccination.
Unlike the 1976 swine influenza vaccine, flu vaccines used since then have not been clearly connected with an
increased frequency of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is associated with paralysis.
Special Notice –Vaccination is generally not recommended for the following people:
1. People allergic to eggs or egg products
2. People sensitive to thimerosal (a substance used as an antiseptic and germ killer)
3. People who have an active nerve disorder
4. People with a fever, or active respiratory or other infection or illnesses
How can you tell if you have a cold or the flu?
It’s often hard to tell if your have a cold or the flu or even a more serious bacterial infection that
is causing your symptoms. Below is a brief outline comparing the two viral illnesses; as always
when in doubt, speak to your doctor about your symptoms.
Symptoms Common Cold Influenza (Flu) Fever/ High Rare Characteristic, High
Temperature (100 - 104 F); lasts 3-4
Headache Rare Prominent Muscle Aches, Joint Slight Usual; often SEVERE Pain
Fatigue, Weakness Quite Mild Can last up to 2- 3
weeks Extreme exhaustion Never Early and prominent Stuffy nose Common Sometimes but RARE Sneezing Usual Sometimes Sore throat Common Sometimes Chest Discomfort, Mild to Common; can
Cough Moderate; become SEVERE
Duration of symptoms 2 days to a week Several days to
several weeks Loss of appetite NO Yes
Antibiotic NO NO
prescription will help
Diarrhea/Vomiting NO NO
What can I do to feel better?
Only symptomatic treatment is available for uncomplicated cases of the common cold. The best medical advice still is to get plenty of bedrest, drink plenty of fluids, gargling with warm salt water, and use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help alleviate fever and body aches. If you have cough and are having greenish to yellow phlegm or nasal discharge, you should call your doctor immediately because you may have a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic. Additionally, if you have a very high fever and/or are not getting better in a few days with over the counter remedies; you should contact your physician. There are many alternative remedies such as vitamin C, garlic, zinc, echinacea, Golden Seal that are touted to help prevent and treat the cold or flu; these should be discussed with your physician.
How can I prevent getting a cold or the flu?
It is still true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Most people catch colds by inhaling the cold virus from someone who is sick or by having hand-to-hand contact with them. There are several common sense approaches to protecting you and your family from the cold or flu.
Good prevention for both is:
? Wash your hands thoroughly
? Avoid close contact with persons that are ill
? Clean the counter tops and common areas in your home with disinfectants if someone in the house is ill
? Quit Smoking
? Avoid dry air; which can cause your nasal passages to get dry and cracked and increase your risks of
breathing in the viruses.