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Is it a Cold or is it the Flu? How To Spot The Differences.

January rolls around each year, and each year the sounds of coughs, sneezes and wheezes seem to fill our households. There is quite a lot of symptom overlap between cold and flu viruses, especially at their onset. So how can a Mom or Dad tell the difference between the two? Read on to discover how they differ and what can be done to help your kiddos while they cope!

First and foremost, let's outline the differences between Cold and Flu. Both of these viruses are respiratory illnesses but different viruses cause them. According to the CDC and our own Infection Control Specialist Giselle Grimes, these two types of illnesses differ mainly in severity of symptoms. While a common cold virus may include a runny or stuffy nose intermittently, flu is generally more intense and can lead to serious health complications if left untreated, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or even hospitalizations.

Tests can be done within the first few days of the illness's onset to tell if it's a cold or if the flu virus is present. Some of the symptoms of each are listed below.

Influenza (Flu) Symptoms Can Include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches and fatigue (tiredness)

Common Cold symptoms are generally milder and can include:

  • More likely to have a runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Headaches and body aches

But what is mild and what is severe to each individual? That's a difficult question to answer as each individual's assessment of what is severe or mild can change from person to person. A quick test performed by your health provider in the initial first days may be a good idea to help rule out the flu virus.

You should also seek out your doctor if you or your child has one or more of the following conditions:

A temperature higher than 100.4

Symptoms that last more than 10 days

Symptoms that are severe or unusual

If your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a fever, you should always call your doctor right away. Your provider can determine if you or your child has a cold and can recommend therapy to help with symptoms.

Since both viruses can be passed on even before you know you are sick, it's a good idea to keep a general idea of your overall wellness in mind. Further information from the CDC states that: "Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 – 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time."

What can be done to limit your risk of either virus? Infection Control Specialist Giselle Grimes listed many ways that fall under the CDC recommendations as well. Number one on the list is get a flu shot. This can help introduce the most expected flu strains for the season to your body and help your body develop antibodies to combat them throughout the year. Also protect yourself and others; wash your hands with soap and warm water or an alcohol based sanitizer. Avoid touching your "T" Zone-Eyes, Nose and Mouth-with unwashed hands. If someone is sick in your home or work, give them some space!

Having a cold doesn't mean that you can't pass it around, even if it's less severe. If you are sick, stay home to keep from spreading it to others. Avoid close contact: hugging, kissing and shaking hands. Be a good steward of this practice: cough and/or sneeze into a tissue then throw it away, or if one is unavailable, the upper arm (making sure to cover your nose and mouth) will do in a pinch. Continue to wash your hands and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home like counters and doorknobs. If your children are sick, disinfect toys, game controllers, and anything they all share or touch frequently. This will help minimize the spread or risk of reinfection in the home.

It is a good practice to consult with your provider before giving your child any non-prescription cold medicines. Over-the-counter medicines can help ease symptoms, but will not make the cold go away any quicker. Be sure to always read the label and follow the usage of any medications as directed. And realize that antibiotics will not help you recover from a cold.

"Antibiotics do not work for viruses. The Flu and Colds are a virus. Tamiflu, which is prescribed for the Flu, is an anti-viral drug. I wish we did have a magic cure, but treating signs and symptoms is all you can do. Unless they are severe, then seek medical attention," concluded Grimes.

One of the best things you can do is maintain contact with your provider while either virus runs its course.

Have you had the cold or flu already this year? How did you handle your symptoms? Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page!