North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

January 14, 2010

Cold and flu are different viruses with very similar symptoms


MT. OLIVE — Health Watch By Sherry Mullenix

The North Jefferson News

Although the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. 

Be-cause they have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart. However, cold symptoms are generally much milder than flu.

The common cold symptoms include: sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, cough and mild fever. The flu often causes higher fever, chills, body aches and fatigue.

You may be asking if there is a flu vaccine, why is there not a cold vaccine? The common cold can be caused by over 250 different viruses. It would be difficult if not impossible to develop a vaccine to protect against that many different viruses. Also, there is less need for a cold vaccine, since colds are minor infections, and normally go away without serious complications.

As you have heard so many times before: “There is NO cure for the common cold.” The most important thing is to remember is drink a lot of fluids to keep your body hydrated. This helps prevent another infection from setting in. Chicken soup is comforting and the steam helps break up nasal congestion.

Over-the-counter cold medications can offer relief from aches and fever. However, some in the medical community no longer believe in suppressing low-grade fever except in the very young, very old or in people with certain medical conditions such as heart or lung disease. Low-grade fevers help the body fight off infection by suppressing the growth of viruses or bacteria and by activating the immune system.

Common over-the-counter medications used in the treatment of the common cold are often effective in the relief of symptoms, but do nothing to shorten the duration of the illness.

• Aspirin: Young people and children should not take aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome

• Analgesics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can ease the aches and pains

• Decongestants can help make breathing easier by shrinking swollen mucous membranes in the nose

• Saline nasal sprays can open breathing passages

• Cough preparations are not overly effective for minor coughs. Water and fruit juices probably help the most

• Antihistamines relieve the allergic reaction associated with the cold virus

• Gargling with salt water can help relieve a sore throat

Both the cold and flu virus are transmitted the same way, through microscopic droplets from an infected person’s respiratory system.  When an infected person sneezes or coughs these droplets are sprayed into the air and onto nearby surfaces.

To protect and prevent the spread of colds and flu viruses:

• Wash your hands frequently; use an alcohol based gel if you don’t have access to water

• Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your hands; wash your hands afterwards

• Turn your head from others when you cough or sneeze

• Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth

• Wash shared articles, like phone etc.

• Stay out of crowds

One of the most persistent myths about colds is that you can get a cold from being chilled. 

The ONLY way to get a cold is being exposed to a cold virus. Cold air may irritate an existing condition and weaken your immunity. This could make your body more receptive to the cold virus, but only if you come into contact with the virus. 

If you get a cold after getting chilled it’s only a coincidence.

Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with her husband, Steve Mullenix (R.Ph). They can be reached at 631-1201.