By: Andrew Dinh, D.O., Primary Care, UT Health Hill Country
The flu, properly known as “influenza,” is a contagious illness caused by a virus that infects the nose, throat and, at times, the lungs. The common cold infects the same areas, but it is caused by a completely different virus.
Cold viruses are much more common than flu viruses and can occur year-round. Flu activity typically increases in October, peaks between December and February, and can last until May.
Getting a flu vaccination every year is the best way to reduce your risk of getting the flu.
How can you tell if it is the flu or a cold?
The flu comes on suddenly and strong, with symptoms that typically include:
- Fevers of 100°F or higher
- Body chills
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
Cold symptoms come on slowly and are less severe. They typically include:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
Think you may have the flu? Here is what you should do.
Both a cold and the flu are very contagious. As soon as you feel symptoms, take these precautions to protect your friends, family and community:
- See your primary care doctor for a flu test.
- Cover your sneezes and coughs.
- Disinfect surfaces and common items in your home.
- Wash your hands often.
- Stay home or wear a medical mask when going out.
A quick, in-office test performed by your primary care doctor can confirm a flu diagnosis. From there, your doctor can determine the best course of treatment based on the severity of your symptoms and your medical history.
While most people do not require antiviral medication, some are at a higher risk for developing complications. People with a higher risk typically include adults who are older than 65, young children, and those with asthma, diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
What should I do if I have the flu?
People with the flu tend to be most contagious within the first three to four days after their symptoms appear. Therefore, plan to stay home until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without using fever-reducing medicines.
Most people who become sick with the flu will usually recover in less than two weeks.
Here is what you can do if you have the flu:
- Follow your doctor’s recommendations.
- Stay at home and avoid close contact with others.
- Rest as much as possible.
- Drink water to stay well hydrated.
- Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or other fever reducers as recommended by your physician.
If you must leave the house, remember to:
- Wear a mask.
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Use your elbow, shirt or tissue.
- Wash your hands often.