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Is it a Cold or the Flu?

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The common cold and influenza can look a lot alike… at first that is.  They are caused by different viruses which effect the body differently.  The cold, commonly caused by a rhinovirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, RSV, well you get the picture.. attacks the cells located in the throat and nasal cavity.  Our immune response to that attack is what causes our symptoms; which are mostly isolated to that area ie. runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes, congestion, etc. The cold virus tends to stay in the upper respiratory tract.

Influenza on the other hand is caused by the influenzavirus, which has many different serotypes, or mutations, making it near impossible to make a vaccine which covers all flu viruses.  This is why we can still get the flu even if we have been vaccinated.  The vaccine tends to cover just the most common and infectious viruses of the season, it’s essentially based of prediction.  The flu, like the cold, may start out with nasal/ sinus congestion and a sore throat, but then proceeds to move south and will set up camp in the lower respiratory tract.  This is why, in some populations, the virus can be in fact deadly.

How can you tell the difference between the cold and the flu?

The Common Cold
Signs/Symptoms:
–Scratchy or sore throat, runny nose
–Malaise, headache, low fever
–Restricted to upper respiratory tract (nose, sinuses, throat)
–Last less than 2 weeks
–Dry cough, usually due to post-nasal drip

The average child gets 6-10 colds per year and the average adult gets 2-4 colds per year.  Elderly tend to get less than 2 colds a year, perhaps because they have antibodies to many of the viruses, or their immune function is lower so they don’t feel the symptoms as acutely as others may.

Complications:
Secondary bacterial infections: Ear infection, laryngitis, sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia
Prevention:
Most infections through touching contaminated surfaces so wash hands often!
Influenza
Signs/Symptoms:
-Looks like a bad cold
-Fever 102° and higher, 3 days+
-Achy muscles, joints, severe headaches
-Lower respiratory tract is involved causing a productive cough, shortness of breath
-Gastrointestinal symptoms are rare, but it is possible to have GI upset due to immune stimulation
-Can last 2 weeks or more
Complications: Acute bronchitis, pneumonia
Prevention: Virus gains access through inhalation or contaminated surfaces.  Wash hands often and support immune system.
See how to support Immune function below in older post

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