As the weather becomes crisper, the leaves embrace their autumn color, and the air fills with the smells of fall baking, we have officially entered the cold and flu season. We are enjoying more time indoors in closer contact with each other, which means it is a good time to stock up on home remedies and review the basic ways to keep healthy and prevent the spread of illness
What is the Flu?
The flu is a highly contagious infection caused by the influenza virus. Cases of people infected by the virus can range from mild to serious – particularly in the very old, in the very young or in those with underlying health conditions. One of the most life threatening complications of the flu is pneumonia.
The influenza virus can be spread by droplets formed when someone with the flu coughs, talks or sneezes. The droplets can move through the air and infect someone nearby, when the virus enters into the body through the mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes or nose. The virus carried in the droplets can survive on hard surfaces for two to eight hours. You can infect yourself by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes.
What are Symptoms of the Flu?
Symptoms of the flu usually develop within two days of exposure, but a person can spread the virus before they begin to develop symptoms.
Symptoms of the flu are:
- Body Aches
- Unproductive Cough
- Sore Throat
See your doctor if the above symptoms persist. Seek emergency medical care for:
- Difficulty Breathing
- Severe Headache
- Chest Pain
- Signs of Dehydration
- Fever With a Rash
The common cold is a respiratory illness that can be caused by many different viral infections. It is often confused with the flu. Colds usually improve in a week’s time. A person suffering from a cold is contagious during the first several days of his or her illness and also may spread the illness before they show symptoms.
Unlike what your grandmother might have said, you can’t catch a cold from the cold weather. The cold, dry air, however, does allow droplets containing the virus to travel further and stay in the air longer. Similar to the flu, virus-infected droplets are formed when someone with the flu coughs, talks or sneezes. The droplets can move through the air and infect others by entering into the body through the mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes or nose.
The air from a human sneeze can travel at speeds of 100 miles per hour or more — another good reason to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze — or duck when you hear one coming your way. Like the flu virus, the cold virus can survive on hard surfaces for up to three hours. It’s possible to infect yourself by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes.
What are the Symptoms of a Cold?
- Nasal Congestion (first clear then turning darker and thicker)
- Sore Throat
- Cough/Chest Discomfort
- Sometimes a Fever less than 101 F
- Slight Body Aches or Headache
Antibiotics cannot cure a cold or the flu. Both are viral infections. Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections.
There is no cure for the common cold or for the influenza virus. There are, however, treatments available to lessen the severity of the symptoms.
- Gargling with warm salt water can help a sore throat.
- Antiviral medication prescribed by your doctor also may shorten the course of your flu and lessen the symptoms.
- Humidifiers can help moisten the air to help a stuffy nose and sore throat. (Water should be changed daily to prevent the growth of mold, fungi and bacteria.)
- Over-the-counter medications for cold symptoms are available for adults and older children. However, they can be dangerous if given to children under 2 years of age and are not recommended for children under 4 years.
- Drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding caffeinated beverages.
- Resting to allow your body time to heal and build up your immune system.
Since there is no cure for the flu or the common cold, prevention is our best defense.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water especially before you eat. If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is recommended.
- Use a tissue when you sneeze or cough then throw the tissue directly into the garbage and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands.
- The CDC recommends that you avoid close contact for 24 hours after your fever is gone if you have shown other symptoms of the flu.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has the flu.
- Antiviral medication may help prevent the flu if you have been exposed to someone with flu symptoms.
- Have your annual flu vaccination.
- Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Follow these preventive tips to stay healthy this cold and flu season. Remember to stop by eMedical Urgent Care in Berkeley Heights or Middletown for your flu shot. Mention this blog post and receive $10 off your flu shot.
About Jane Sennett
Jane Sennett, DO, is the medical director for eMedical Urgent Care, formerly known as eMedical Offices (EMO). She joined eMedical Urgent Care in 2014. She is board-certified in emergency medicine. Dr. Sennett earned her medical degree from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s School of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her emergency medicine residency at Union Hospital and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. Dr. Sennett holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Rutgers University. She also is an attending physician at Monmouth Medical Center and Robert Wood University Hospital at Rahway.