When temperatures plummet into the single digits and mounds of snow pile along the streets, that can only mean one thing: winter is here…and so is flu season.
Every year, we’re warned of the dangers of the flu and advised to take preventative measures to avoid it (washing our hands regularly, avoiding contact with sick individuals, etc.). But no matter how hard we try, we’re still susceptible: Over 1,400 cases of the flu have been reported in children’s hospitals across Michigan since Thanksgiving and more than 325 have been hospitalized this season already. Part of the reason for the particularly rough flu season is that the H3N2 flu strain genetically departed from that in the flu vaccine developed early last year. Though the flu is debilitating and dangerous–and should be taken seriously if contracted–it shares many of the same symptoms with a less-serious illness, the rhinovirus, also known as the common cold.
Because of their acute similarities (at least in the first day or two), hospital ERs across Michigan have been jammed this winter, treating patients with flu-like symptoms only to find out that they have a cold. So how can you tell the difference?
When you have a cold, you are more likely to experience a runny nose, stuffiness and a sore throat, which is often spurred by post-nasal drip. In general, these symptoms are the same with the flu but intensified, attacking your body suddenly (unlike the gradual onset of symptoms with a cold) and lasting several days or more.
The cold and flu are respiratory illnesses. But the most distinguishable symptoms of the flu are fever, chills, extreme fatigue and dry cough. It is uncommon to contract the flu without an accompanying fever. And unlike cold symptoms, which are generally not strong enough to keep us from our daily activities, the flu could easily knock you off your feet for several days.
Similarly, the flu can also lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia or bacterial infections, whereas a cold usually will not. It is important to consult your doctor immediately if any flu-like symptoms persist beyond two or three days.
Is there a treatment option for the flu?
Yes. Working to attack the flu virus from multiplying and by reducing the symptoms, Tamiflu is a popular drug known to treat the influenza virus. Though popular and effective, it should not be taken in place of getting the flu vaccination. As a result of its combativeness, it is widely popular this time of year and in very high demand. Michigan and other states across the country are already reporting shortages of Tamiflu. Your best option is to try to avoid the flu in the first place: Get vaccinated, keep your hands washed and if possible, stay away from infected individuals.