Is It a Cold or the Flu?

Cold or Flu?

You wake up sick: headache, sniffles, cough. What if you have the flu? Or is it just a cold? Maybe you should go to Redfern, but you don’t want to get out of bed feeling so badly, go out in the cold and expose yourself to other (sick) people. Maybe you should just eat some chicken soup. How do you tell the difference between the cold and the flu, anyway?

The symptoms of both are similar, and sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between them. Both are respiratory illnesses caused by viruses, but the flu is worse—like a cold on steroids. Along with the headache, sniffles and cough, signs of both include congestion, fever, sore throat, fatigue and body aches. 

The big difference is that the flu can have serious complications, including bacterial infections of the sinuses and respiratory system; pneumonia; inflammation of the heart, brain and muscles; multi-organ failure and even death. And not just in the high-risk groups (children, the elderly, people with poor immune systems), but the young and otherwise healthy. Takeaway: the flu is a serious, sometimes deadly disease that should not be ignored. If you suspect you have the flu, go to the doctor.

cold or flu 

How do you protect yourself?

As with any virus, no cure exists for either the cold or the flu, but you can protect yourself from both in various ways:

  • Get a seasonal flu vaccine!
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently, especially after sneezing or coughing—and do so into your elbow as opposed to your hand
  • Avoid close contact with others through hugging, kissing and even shaking hands.
  • By all means, stay home when you are sick, unless you do decide to visit your doctor. If you do leave home, be sure to wear a face mask to protect others, as well as yourself.
  • And don’t forget that chicken soup!

The Flu Vaccine

While the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, it does protect you from multiple strains of the flu virus (three or four influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season) and can reduce flu severity if you do get the flu. The flu virus mutates quickly, and several strains can develop and cause illness; which is why each year, epidemiologists have to create new vaccines. At Redfern Health Center, the quadrivalent vaccine is given, which is more effective than the trivalent vaccine. If you still haven’t gotten a flu vaccine, it’s not too late to get a flu shot at Redfern!

If you got a flu shot but still got the flu, do not believe the myth that the shot caused the flu, which is impossible because the vaccine is made from inactive strains of the virus. Either you got a strain that wasn’t covered, or you weren’t fully immune—the vaccine takes about two weeks to be as effective as possible, which is still never 100%.

If there’s a vaccine for the flu, why not for a cold?

The reason is twofold: first, there are hundreds of strains of the cold, mutating constantly, and second, the cold is not especially serious and so is not a high priority for vaccine development.