Sneeze. Cough. Ache. It’s no fun to have a cold or the flu. Cold and flu viruses spread most easily in the late fall and winter. To help prevent catching and spreading a cold or the flu, there are a number of things you can do, such as washing your hands often, getting a flu vaccine, and keeping direct contact with others at a minimum. Here’s what you need to know about colds and the flu — and how to prevent them.
The Difference Between a Cold and the Flu
- Colds: Lots of different viruses cause colds, but the symptoms are usually the same. They are: runny nose and sneezing, red eyes, sore throat and cough, headaches and body aches. There is no cure for a cold. Antibiotics will not cure a cold. If you catch a cold, treat the symptoms. Colds usually last 1 to 2 weeks.
- Flu: Influenza (flu) is a viral infection. It is a serious disease that kills 36,000 people per year, and hospitalizes 200,000. The flu is caused by influenza viruses A and B. There are different strains of the flu virus every year. Flu symptoms are worse and come on faster. The flu causes a fever, body aches, a headache, a dry cough, and a sore or dry throat. You will probably feel tired and less hungry than usual. The symptoms usually are the worst for the first 3 or 4 days. But it can take 1 to 2 weeks to get completely better.
How to Prevent Getting a Cold or the Flu
- Wash those hands! Hand-washing. It’s a simple and effective way to help prevent the flu and other diseases. Washing your hands often, especially during flu season, can reduce your risk for getting or spreading the virus. The flu virus can spread through direct contact, such as shaking hands, contact with small droplets that form when a person sneezes or coughs, and contact with objects such as tissues or handkerchiefs that have been touched by an infected person. This helpful resource describes when you should wash your hands and the 6 steps for proper hand-washing.
- To get the flu vaccine or not? You may be wondering whether you should get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine allows your immune system to make antibodies. If you are exposed to the flu later, the antibodies can attack and destroy the virus. Getting the flu vaccine does not guarantee that you won’t get the seasonal flu, but it can make the symptoms milder and lower your risk for developing other health problems from the flu. It is recommended that everyone age 6 months or older get the flu vaccine each year. But getting the vaccine is especially important for people at high risk for developing other health problems from the flu such as pneumonia. Use this interactive guide to compare your options and make an informed decision about the flu vaccine.
- Treat that fever. A fever is your body’s way of fighting an infection or other illness. Viral infections, such as the flu, often cause a fever. Most people have an average body temperature of about 98.6°F. A fever of 102°F or higher for 3 to 4 days is common with the flu. You can usually treat your fever at home by resting and drinking lots of fluids, dressing lightly, and trying a nonprescription medicine. Use this helpful resource to check your symptoms, treat your fever, and know when to see a doctor.
We wish you the best for a happy and healthy winter!