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Cold or Flu: What are the differences between the two?

Both a cold and the flu are viral infections that cause similar symptoms. A cold is only a minor viral infection of the nose and throat, while the flu is usually more severe, with symptoms that include the sudden onset of high fever and the addition of aches and pains.

What exactly is the flu?

Learning the facts about flu is the first step toward protecting yourself. The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory infection and it is highly contagious. It is most common in the fall and winter, and is caused mainly by viruses called influenza viruses. These enter the body through the mouth, nose and eyes. When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes airborne and can be inhaled by anyone nearby. School-age children are often the first to get the flu, which they carry home and to other places in the community.

Recognizing flu in adults and children over 5 years.

Review these common flu symptoms. Are you or your loved one experiencing some or all of them?

- fever

- chills/sweats

- cough

- muscle and joint pain

- headache

- fatigue and weakness

- sore throat

If you answered "yes," you should call your doctor immediately. Get a diagnosis within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms and, if appropriate, your doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu. Tamiflu attacks the influenza virus (the flu) and stops it from spreading inside the body.

You can get Tamiflu at

Recognizing flu in children under 5 years.

Call your pediatrician if your child complains of or if you observe:

- fever

- vomiting

- diarrhea

- nasal inflammation

- sore throat.

Recognizing flu in the 50+ population.

Older family members are also susceptible to the flu virus. Common flu symptoms for individuals over 50 are:

- fever over 99 - F

- fatigue and weakness

- confusion

- nasal obstruction.

Knowing the dangers of flu.

If a family member is experiencing some or all of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately and ask about antiviral medication such as Tamiflu. A bad case of the flu will probably send a healthy adult or child to bed for 3 to 5 days. Afterward, the person will recover fully, but cough and tiredness may persist for days or weeks. Nonetheless, the flu can be a serious illness. Each year, up to 40 million Americans develop the flu, and about 150,000 are hospitalized.

People with chronic illnesses and those over the age of 50 are more likely than others to become seriously ill with the flu, and to develop other serious infections such as pneumonia. If you are elderly or have a chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or HIV, call your doctor at the first sign of flu symptoms.

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