Protection for a common cold is frequent hand washing. About 80% of contagious diseases are transmitted by touch. There is a simple friction that occurs when you rub skin against skin while using warm water and soap followed by thorough rinsing and drying to get rid of most potentially harmful germs.
If you have a cold, you’ll probably experience symptoms such as:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Slight fever (more common in children)
- Headache, body aches or mild tiredness
Influenza flu is another respiratory illness. Unlike the common cold, this flu can develop into a more serious condition such as pneumonia. This is especially true for young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with health conditions such as asthma or heart disease.
Unlike the cold, which can hit at any time of year, the flu is generally seasonal. Flu season usually runs from fall to spring, peaking during the winter months. During flu season, you can catch the flu in the same way you would pick up a cold by coming into contact with droplets spread by an infected person.
The best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu shot. Most doctors recommend getting the shot in September, at the very start of flu season. However, you can still get the vaccine in late fall or winter.
To avoid picking up the influenza virus, wash your hands often and thoroughly with warm soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your nose, eyes, and mouth, and try to stay away from anyone who has the flu.
What to Do if You Have the Flu
In most cases, fluids and rest are the best way to treat the flu. To control your symptoms and feel better, try over-the-counter decongestants and pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. However, never give aspirin to children. It can increase the risk of a rare but serious condition called Reye’s syndrome. Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Your doctor can prescribe antiviral drugs—oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza)—to treat the flu. These drugs can shorten the duration of the flu, and prevent complications such as pneumonia, but you need to take them within the first couple of days of getting sick.
- dry, hacking cough
- fever or chills (although not everyone with the flu will run a fever)
- sore throat
- muscle or body aches, headache
- stuffy and runny nose
- profound fatigue (may last two to three weeks)