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How Well Do You Really Know the Common Cold vs. the Flu?

provided by Clorox

Even though you may have done everything possible to prevent the flu, including getting a flu shot, you may think you have the flu when you really just have a cold. How well do you know the difference between the two? These basic facts may help clear things up.

What Is the Flu?

Influenza (the flu) is an extremely contagious respiratory illness that is caused by influenza A or B viruses and affects up to 20 percent of Americans every year, according to flu.gov. It spreads from person to person, can cause mild to severe illness and in some cases can lead to death. The flu appears most frequently in winter and early spring.

In a typical year in the U.S., approximately 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), resulting in approximately 200,000 hospitalizations.

What Are the Symptoms and Treatment of the Flu?

Symptoms of the flu and the common cold are similar, but they are more severe with the flu. The flu can also result in other serious health problems, such as pneumonia and bacterial infections, and can require hospitalization. Symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough are more common and intense with the flu. Doctors are able to administer a flu test within the first few days of illness to determine whether someone has the flu. Antiviral drugs are sometimes prescribed by doctors for patients with the flu.

How Does the Flu Virus Spread?

A simple cough or sneeze can spread the flu from person to person. It can also spread when a person touches something with the flu virus on it, like a door handle or a desk, and then touches his or her mouth or nose, according to the New York State Department of Health. In fact, the CDC says that influenza viruses can survive on surfaces up to eight hours. A person can be infected with the flu and not realize it for a few days. In fact, someone can be contagious even before symptoms are evident.

How Can I Help Prevent the Spread of the Flu Virus?

  • Encourage vaccinations. Vaccination is the best protection against contracting the flu.
  • Practice proper hand hygiene. Wash hands carefully and frequently with hand soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 62 percent alcohol are also effective.
  • Ensure frequent cleaning and disinfecting of commonly touched surfaces.
  • Use EPA-registered disinfectants with an influenza claim.
  • Cough or sneeze into elbows. Avoid coughing or sneezing into hands, which are more likely to spread bacteria and the flu virus through touch.
  • Stay home. Encourage those who are sick to stay home and limit contact with others.

What Is the Rhinovirus?

The rhinovirus is the leading cause of the common cold. In fact, it is the cause of 30 to 50 percent of all colds and is responsible for more cases of human illness than any other infectious agent, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. On average, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) says, children suffer six to eight colds per year, while adults typically range from four to six.

What are the Symptoms and Treatment of the Cold?

Common cold symptoms include runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, headache and cough. The symptoms usually begin two to three days after infection. With a rhinovirus infection, fever is usually slight but can climb to 102 degrees Fahrenheit in infants and young children. Symptoms can last from two to 14 days. Like many viral infections, the common cold is best treated with rest and fluids because there are no known cures.

How Does Rhinovirus Spread?

Rhinovirus is spread by touching the mouth, nose or eyes after contact with an infected individual or a contaminated surface. Rhinoviruses can survive on surfaces for several hours, according to the NCBI. Airborne transmission from coughs and sneezes is also possible. Rhinoviruses are most active in early fall, spring and summer.

How Can I Help Prevent the Spread of Rhinovirus?

Prevention strategies are similar to those for the flu:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water. As an added precaution, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 62 percent alcohol.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces often.
  • Use EPA-registered disinfectants that make a rhinovirus claim.
  • Avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands, because illness-causing germs can spread through touch. Instead, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow.

Know the Difference

Knowing the difference between the flu and a cold can mean the difference between choosing the right treatment and enduring the symptoms for longer than you want to.

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