Is It a Cold or the Flu

Your 8-year-old arrives home from school with a fever, a headache, a hacking cough and a look of misery on his face. Is it a cold or the flu?

Many people head into flu season - generally November through March - confused about what really constitutes the flu and what is actually a head cold or virus. The American Lung Association and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offer these explanations of the differences between the two illnesses.

A Cold - Colds are considered minor infections of the nose and throat, caused by different viruses. Symptoms can include:

• a runny nose

• congestion

• sneezing

• a cough and

• a sore or scratchy throat

Colds can last about a week, even longer in the elderly, children and people in poor health. Colds are also highly contagious, spread when droplets of fluid are transferred by touch. That's why hand-washing is crucial, particularly around a person suffering from a cold. Complications from a cold include sinus congestion or earache.

The Flu

The flu is more severe than a cold. There are three types of influenza virus - A, B, and C, with A and B being the most severe. A and B flu viruses change all the time, and different strains afflict people around the world each year. To keep the body's defenses working against these changing strains, a flu vaccine is highly recommended.

Flu symptoms include:

• a high fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)

• chills

• muscle aches

• pronounced fatigue and weakness

• a prominent headache and

• coughing and chest discomfort.

The flu can sometimes include congestion, sneezing or a sore throat. Influenza usually lasts a week or two, although the feeling of weakness can persist for a while longer, particularly in the elderly. Again, regular and thorough hand-washing is one of the best ways to avoid coming down with the flu, as is getting the flu vaccine (which is available as an injection or a nasal spray). Complications from the flu, including bronchitis or pneumonia, can be life-threatening.

Deirdre Wilson is national senior editor for Dominion Parenting Media and Parenthood.com.

© Parenthood.com, used with permission.

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