The flu or just a cold? How do we know?

‘The flu or just a cold’ is a post I wrote back in November 2016. I thought in the present circumstances it might be good to share it again.

Unless you live in the Arctic, you will know it is that time of year again. The time when colds and flu sweep across the landscape and the nasty bugs propagate and smear themselves over every surface. Colds are annoying but they will eventually go after a few days.

Cold or flu? The misery of blowing one's nose.
Cold or flu?

But what if this is not a cold? What if it is flu? How do we know the difference?

According to the ‘Common Cold Centre‘ in Cardiff, there are 200 viruses that cause colds but only 3 that cause flu. Colds are associated with blocked noses, sore throats, sneezing and coughing. Flu has more severe symptoms including fever, fatigue and muscle ache. Cold symptoms develop over a couple of days and get better over the same period. Flu symptoms appear more quickly and usually last longer.

So what can we do if we have a cold?

It’s common sense. Rest, plenty of fluids, lots of fruit and vegetables and over the counter medicines. What we forget to do is stop the virus spreading.The droplets sneezed out of a person’s nose can spread about one metre away. Although new research from MIT has stated that the gas cloud which contains the droplets can travel as far as 200 feet. You can see and feel the droplets (if you are unfortunate to have them land on you) but not the gas cloud which extends further. The droplets hang suspended in the air before landing on surfaces and can survive up to 24 hours. This means that you and your loved ones can become infected with the cold virus ..again!

So what can we do if we have flu?

Common sense again. If this is more than a cold then go to your doctor and get checked out. They won’t prescribe antibiotics. They don’t work with viruses. But they will give you some advice and alleviate any fears if you have other medical conditions. If you are normally healthy then rest, plenty of fluids, lots of fruit and vegetables and over the counter medicines will help. Again, don’t forget what you can do to stop the virus spreading.

So how can we stop the virus spreading?

  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue and disposing of the tissue straightaway.
  • Coughing or sneezing into your jumper/top or even your arm is a good way to help children who usually can’t get to tissue in time.
  • Washing hands with soap and water after sneezing can eliminate all those droplets that can be spread around your environment.
  • Cleaning surfaces/objects which may have been covered in the droplets.e.g. Phones, remote controls, food, iPads, handrails, door handles
  • Don’t go to places which are populated with the elderly, sick or young e.g. A and E, care homes, schools.

Having a cold or the flu is not nice but we must think about others. It’s not just about you. It’s about the whole community. We are a nation of sharers. On our social media we share everything about us, from the holiday we went on, to the dinner we prepared last night but we don’t want to share diseases. And that is what a cold or flu is. It’s a disease. There was an old NHS campaign back in 1947 where the strap line was “Coughs and sneezes cause diseases”. They weren’t wrong. Except for vaccination, the only way to prevent spreading is hygiene and these basic tips are one way you can do your bit for the community. Let’s share good practice. Let’s teach our children what to do when they sneeze and cough so we can help one another to keep healthy this winter.

And if you are healthy and haven’t already done so, then please sign up to continue to help the NHS fight the virus that has taken over our world.

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