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Cold and Flu

Wake up sniffing and sneezing? Wondering if it is the common cold that has caught up with you? Or are you sure it’s not the flu that’s going around?

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Cold and flu are terms that are almost used interchangeably. But, these are two different conditions with different implications.

Let us have a look at cold and flu facts in the following paragraphs and learn the difference between these two common illnesses.

What is a Cold?

A common cold is a seasonal respiratory infection. There are over 200 viruses that can cause a common cold. However, 10 to 40% of the cases are caused by rhinovirus, 20% by coronavirus ad about 10% by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

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How does One Catch a Cold?

The cold virus spreads from an infected person to another. It can spread by direct contact or by coming in contact with infected objects such as a door knob, taps, keyboard, glasses, used utensils such as water glass, etc. Cold can even spread by inhalation of the aerosols containing the virus after one sneezes.

The cold virus will first enter the nose or throat and hook it to the lining. Soon, the immune system will begin to attack the virus. If the strain of virus has infected you before, the attack will get rid of it before you know it. Otherwise, in case of a new strain, the initial attacks will fail to get rid of it. In this situation, the immune system will send more white blood cells to kill the virus. This will lead to inflammation of the nose and throat along with mucous production. As the body is concentrating on getting rid of the virus, you will start feeling weak, fatigued and sick.

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Does Getting Wet Make Me Vulnerable to Cold?

It is an old myth that getting wet in the rains or a cold climate will cause you to catch a cold. There are various other factors that make one vulnerable to cold. These include:

  • Nose or throat allergy
  • Emotional distress
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Malnourishment
  • Weak body

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What are the Symptoms of Cold?

The symptoms of a cold usually show in about a day or two. Within a few days, the cold subsides on its own. However, some colds may last for a few weeks. Symptoms of a cold are as follows:

  • Runny nose that begins with clear mucus that gradually turns to thick, green mucus
  • Blocked, stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Mild fever
  • Earache
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Body aches

How to Treat a Cold?

There is no specific treatment for a cold. Antibiotics are not much use as it is a viral infection. In order to get some relief one may:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Use decongestants to open up a blocked nose
  • Eat a paracetamol to get rid of pain and fever
  • Take over the counter cold drugs that help reduce the symptoms to some extent
  • Eat a well balanced diet
  • Avoid smoking or drinking
  • Take plenty of bed rest

How to Prevent a Cold?

There is no vaccine till date that helps prevent cold. However, one can take precautions to prevent the spread of colds. One should stay away from anyone who has a cold. Avoid using or sharing used vessels of an infected person. Cover your nose and mouth before you sneeze and cough. Those with cold should wash their hands regularly with soap and water. Use a hand-sanitizer to avoid spread of the virus. Sleep well and avoid going to school or work to prevent infected others.

What is a Flu?

Flu also known as ‘influenza’ is a respiratory illness. It is caused by the influenza virus. The symptoms of flu are more severe than the symptoms of a cold. It can knock you off work for a few days to weeks.It can turn into a serious complication like pneumonia in vulnerable people like children, pregnant women, old people or people with a heart disease.

How Does One Get Flu?

Flu spreads from person to person. When one sneezes or coughs, the virus spread through respiratory droplets. It can also pass after a healthy person touches an infected surface or object. The virus can spread from an infected person a day before they develop symptoms upto 5 days after they are sick. Unlike the cold virus, the flu virus can enter the body through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth.

What are the Symptoms of Flu?

The symptoms of flu are similar to a cold, but more severe.

These symptoms include:

In cases of swine flu, one may develop vomiting and diarrhea. The symptoms usually get better in about a week. In some people, the flu progresses to fever.

Types of Flu

There are 3 types of flu virus that can lead to an infection. These viruses are able to change their virulence and therefore, every year new vaccine is made against the infecting strains.

These viruses include:

  • Influenza Type A:This type of virus is found in many animals like pigs, chickens, ducks a well as humans. The subtypes of this virus include H1N1, H1N2, H3N2.
  • Influenza Type B:This virus mostly infects humans. The illness caused by this virus is milder than the type A flu. However, type B usually leads to an endemic infection.
  • Influenza Type C:This virus is found in pigs, dogs as well as humans. It leads to a mild respiratory infection.

Treatment for Flu

Flu too does not have any specific treatment. One should take plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids. One can take ibuprofen and acetaminophen to relieve the pain. Over-the-counter drugs like decongestants are also helpful. The doctor may prescribe Tamiflu or Relenza to treat flu.

If one develops trouble breathing, severe sore throat, green mucus or high fever, contact your doctor immediately. This may be a sign of pneumonia.

Can I Prevent Flu?

Yes, flu can be prevented with the help of a flu shot. Wash hands with soap and water frequently. Avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth to prevent spread of the virus.

This was all about cold and flu. As you can see, these two conditions are highly similar, but have different causes and complications. If you have any doubt, visit a doctor and get yourself thoroughly checked.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 18, 2015