You feel poorly, you’re aching everywhere, and your nose cannot seem to stop running. But is this a cold or the flu? You wonder to yourself. While the flu and common cold are both respiratory illnesses and share similar symptoms, they are caused by different viruses and should not be confused. Read on to find out the differences between a cold and the flu and everything else you need to know about the flu.
1. It Is Not the Same As the Common Cold
The flu is caused by the influenza virus while a common cold can be caused by many types of viruses. Generally, a cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu – cold symptoms generally resolve within a few days, while the flu can make you feel quite sick for up to a few weeks. A fever is also one of the common signs of the flu. On the other hand, if you have a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat and headache, you most probably have a common cold. It is also worth noting that, unlike the common cold, the flu can result in severe complications like pneumonia, bacterial infections, multi-organ failure and heart inflammation.
2. It Is Extremely Contagious
One of the main reasons why the flu virus has caused so many epidemics over the centuries is because it’s extremely contagious and can spread merely by breathing and talking via tiny droplets – you don’t even have to sneeze or cough! To complicate matters, the flu virus can live out in the open for up to two days, or 48 hours, and linger on hard surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards and elevator buttons. Did you know that you can start spreading the flu virus even before you exhibit symptoms, and you can stay contagious for five to seven days after falling ill? If you are down with the flu, make sure to minimise contact with others and avoid going to work. Make sure to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because virus lingering on your hands can spread through those organs. You should also avoid sneezing into your hands because you’re going to spread your virus through the very next surface you touch (unless you wash your hands immediately).
3. Antibiotics Don’t Work
The most common misconception that people have is that antibiotics can work to get rid of the flu. Unfortunately, antibiotics work on bacteria, not viruses. Even though you cannot cure yourself of flu, the symptoms can be treated. You may take a fever reducer like ibuprofen as prescribed by your doctor and make sure to get loads of rest. Do remember to minimise contact with others to avoid spreading the virus.
4. People With Weaker or Compromised Immune Systems Are at Greater Risk
People with vulnerable or compromised immune systems, such as those over the age of 65, pregnant women and children under the age of 2, are more susceptible to the flu virus. People suffering from chronic lung or heart conditions and metabolic disorders like diabetes, anaemia or kidney disease are also at greater risk.
5. It Evolves Every Year
The flu virus evolves extremely quickly due to its RNA genome. According to the CDC, there are currently about 198 possible subtypes of the virus. This is why new flu vaccines are developed every year to fight the latest virus strains.
6. The Flu Vaccine Is the Most Effective Way to Keep the Flu at Bay
The flu vaccination is your best defence against the flu. While the flu shot has an effectiveness of 60 per cent and does not protect against the flu entirely, you are less likely to get severely ill and develop secondary complications when you’re vaccinated. So, how often should you take the flu vaccine and how long does it last? It’s recommended that you get vaccinated every year because flu viruses evolve very quickly, and last year’s vaccine may not protect you from this year’s viruses. When you get vaccinated, your immune system produces antibodies to protect you from the viruses that the vaccine is designed to fight. Over time, antibody levels decline, so that’s another reason why you should get a flu shot every year.