Nancy Lugo: How to tell if it's a cold or the flu

This winter, Central Florida has been hit hard by influenza, the real flu.

  • By
  • | 10:27 a.m. January 14, 2015
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
  • Neighborhood
  • Share

This winter, Central Florida has been hit hard by influenza, the real flu. The flu seems to be everywhere. By the start of 2015, Florida’s influenza rate was one of the highest in the nation.

Influenza, the real flu, is not just a bad cold. Flu and colds are both infections caused by viruses and spread among people. Both influenza and a bad cold can both make you sick, but influenza can be a killer. In WWI, more U.S. soldiers died from influenza than from battle wounds.

A cold is an upper respiratory infection. URI means an infection that is in your upper breathing apparatus: nose, ears, and throat. URIs are one of the leading reasons for office visits and emergency room visits, but most people should be able manage a URI on their own with sleep, plenty of water, tea, and over the counter medications. Since URIs and influenza are both caused by viruses, antibiotics do not help.

Influenza might start with some of the same symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, including a runny nose, sore throat, and cough. Additionally the real flu typically causes a fever, chills, body aches, and headache while zapping your energy and making you generally miserable as your body battles the invaders.

URIs and influenza both spread from airborne droplets. An infected person, who may or may not have symptoms, can send tiny droplets with the virus into the air with a cough, sneeze or just by talking. The virus can get into your respiratory system when you breathe in those droplets or when the droplet lands on something that you touch (such as a phone, keyboard, or doorknob) and then you unknowingly transfer the virus with your hand into your mouth.

Influenza can knock you down for a few days, but its most vulnerable victims are the very young, old, weak, or pregnant. People with chronic conditions, like asthma and heart disease, and smokers are also more likely to have influenza complications. The complications include bacterial infections, worsening of chronic conditions, dehydration, and pneumonia.

The influenza virus is continually mutating, which is why you need a vaccination each year. The severity of the flu varies year to year, depending on the strain, how many people get the flu shot, and how well the flu vaccine is matched to the influenza virus that is currently circulating.

Getting the flu shot (or spray immunization) not only protects you, but can also protect others as it cuts down on the transmission of the hardy virus. The flu vaccine is recommended for every one 6-months-old and older without a contraindication, a specific reason why the vaccine is not for them.

Other prevention measures seem like common sense but are often forgotten. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home if you are sick. In the 2014 election, Orange County residents voted overwhelmingly for employees to earn paid sick leave. Employers who encourage employees to stay home when sick help reduce the wildfire spread of the virus. Other workplaces have sick employees bringing the virus to work and spreading it around. In jobs with plenty of people contact, like restaurants, the virus can spread through the community, and to the most vulnerable customers.

Cover your mouth and nose when you cough. Coughing into your elbow instead of your hands can reduce the spread through airborne droplets and hands. Wash your hands often. Soap and water are best; hand sanitizers are only for backup when soap and water are not available. Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, or mouth. (Next time you are in a boring meeting, watch how often people fail to heed this warning.) Not smoking keeps your respiratory system better able to resist viruses. And most importantly, be as healthy as you can be. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, drink water, eat fruits and vegetables, and manage stress. The healthier you are in general, the better your body can fight the viral invaders.


Related Articles