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Cold or Flu?
By Carol LeBeau
3/2/2012 3:16:50 PM

When my friend, Susan, called to cancel our lunch date, I could tell something was wrong.  Her voice sounded raspy and her energy was clearly low.  “I feel awful, “ she complained. “I don’t know whether I’ve got a cold or the flu.”

My friend’s not alone. How do you know whether your sore throat and fatigue may be signaling a cold?   Or could those sniffles and body aches the first signs of the flu?   I decided to find out what the experts have to say.  The good folks at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases have some pretty good guidelines regarding the difference between cold and flu symptoms.

They use the simple acronym, FACTS to make it easy to determine whether your symptoms mean a few uncomfortable days with a cold…or an indicator of more serious case of the flu.

F—The flu typically results in fever
A—Muscle aches are more common with the flu
C—Chills are more common with the flu
T—Real “I can’t get out of bed” tiredness is more associated with the flu.
S—A cold usually comes on gradually…a flu, suddenly.

According to Dr. Susan Rehm, Medical Director of the Foundation, it’s important to know whether you have a cold or the flu.  Rehm says, “About all we can offer for a cold is chicken soup and symptom relief medications.  However, there are effective anti-viral prescriptions to treat the flu.”  

Rehm says when it comes to the flu, medications will get you better…faster.  She recommends three approaches:

1. Know what you have to prevent it from spreading
2. Get vaccinated to prevent the spread
3. Use anti-viral medication

By the way, it’s not too late to be vaccinated for the current seasonal flu.  Although the flu traditionally peaks in February, it has peaked as late as April.  The vaccination…easy to find at many pharmacies…takes two weeks to become effective.

Preventive measures are just good sense.  Cover your mouth or nose when sneezing and stay home when you’re sick.  Even though we know better, Americans continue social interaction even when the have the flu. 

We can do better folks.  As it turns out, Susan did me (and everyone else at the restaurant we’d planned to meet for lunch!) a big favor.  Her symptoms escalated quickly.  Had she kept that lunch date, others could have become infected and she probably wouldn’t have gotten her diagnosis quickly enough to get on an anti-viral drug.

Susan followed her doctor’s advice and stayed out of circulation until a day after her fever broke.  She’s feeling fine and we’ve rescheduled our lunch date for next week. I wonder how many of us are flu-free today because of Susan’s actions?  Hmm.  Thanks Susan. Lunch is on me!

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.