What's the difference between a cold and the flu?
The symptoms of a cold and the flu are easily confused.
It's important to remember that influenza can be a serious illness and people die from flu each year, while colds are minor infections.
It's easy to see why people get confused, the cold and flu are both illnesses of the respiratory tract although they are caused by different types of viruses.
Flu symptoms tend to show up quickly, within three to six hours, and will present as a fever, aching bones, dry cough and tiredness. Sufferers often describe the experience as feeling as though they have been "hit by a bus".
Cold symptoms are less severe - a stuffy nose, wet cough and mucous, slight tiredness and limited body aches.
To begin with, doctors prescribe similar treatment for both illnesses:
- Drink plenty of liquids, including tea, water, and juice.
- Use a humidifier to help reduce congestion.
But if you suspect that you have flu, see a doctor as soon as possible. Studies show that if treated within 48 hours after onset of symptoms, prescription medicines are effective in reducing the severity of influenza.
Doctors also recommend some people getting a flu shot, especially for members of vulnerable groups like elderly people.
Prevention, however, is better than cure. Your best defence against viruses is to wash your hands as a way of reducing the risk of transmission of common viruses. Because these viruses are fairly robust, if you are in the presence of someone who is ill chances are you will pick up some of the microscopic viruses on your hands, usually by touching their skin or something that they have handled. By washing your hands you can stop the virus from spreading.