Knowing the Difference between Cold and Flu Can Determine Long-Term Outcome

Fever, progressive symptoms signal illness may be more than a simple cold

Trevin HSCOVINGTON, Ohio (September 29, 2014) – Runny nose, sore throat, headache and cough. These are all signs of the common cold, or are they? Many symptoms of the common cold are also shared by the influenza viruses that plague millions in the country each year.

The ability to distinguish between the two may be difficult at first, but it is vital in the long-run. That’s because proper and early treatment of the flu can make a significant difference in how severe the illness becomes or how long it lasts, said Guillermo (Bill) Trevino, MD, with Covington Family Care.

“The runny nose, the cough and sore throat are all typical symptoms of the common cold, but what really distinguish it from the flu are the more systemic symptoms,” Dr. Trevino said. “Influenza will cause people to have fever, malaise and body aches – the most important feature being the fever.”

The Disease Control and Prevention Off Site Icon (CDC) estimates there are about 1 billion cases of the cold each year in the United States. The flu accounts for fewer cases. The CDC said there were about 31.8 million influenza-related illnesses and 14.4 million-related doctor office visits during the last recorded flu season in 2012-2013.

Both the common cold and influenza are caused by viruses. That means they cannot be cured or aided with medications like antibiotics. However, symptoms of the influenza viruses can be alleviated or lessened by the use of antiviral medications. In order to be effective, these medications need to be administered within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. That doesn’t leave much time for individuals to wait and see if what they are dealing with is just a cold or something worse.

Still, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases Off Site Icon it may not take that long to know the difference. The foundation said the best way to distinguish between the two is by how fast and severe the symptoms come on. The foundation created an acronym to help individuals remember the difference. FACTS – F for fever, A for aches, C for chills, T for tiredness and S for sudden onset. The illness is most likely the flu if many of these symptoms are present.

Dr. Trevino strongly urges anyone who is considered high-risk because of age or pre-existing conditions to seek medical help as soon as possible if there is any question as to which illness their body is fighting.

“We are talking about those who are in the extremes of age including infants and those over 65 years old or those who have chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This also includes individuals whose immune system has been compromised by another illness such as cancer,” Dr. Trevino said. “These are individuals who might have a harder time fighting infection.”

Most healthy individuals can fight the flu on their own with proper rest, nutrition and hydration at home. There are, however, symptoms that signal the flu may be becoming complicated and need special attention.

“Influenza in and of itself is not always serious, but it weakens the immune system and can make a person more susceptible to other illnesses, the most common of which is secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia,” Dr. Trevino said. “You need to see your doctor if your cough worsens and is accompanied by yellow-greenish phlegm or if you were starting to feel better, but suddenly turn worse.”

According to the CDC, most individuals begin experiencing symptoms of the flu one to four days after being exposed to it. The flu typically lasts one to two weeks. The best defense against the seasonal flu is to be immunized in early fall. Up until a couple of years ago, the shot was only recommended for high-risk individuals or those with whom they are in close contact. However, in 2010, those rules expanded to include encouraging all individuals to receive the shot, Dr. Trevino, a Premier HealthNet physician said.

For more information on the flu vaccine or to find a primary care physician, visit:

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