What is the difference between a cold and flu?
As we return to the UAE from festive vacations, long plane journeys and changes in temperatures can cause havoc with our immune systems. If you or your child are feeling out-of-sorts, it’s important to know which virus is to blame, and how best to overcome it.
A stuffy nose, an irritated throat, and a bad headache – is it a cold or the seasonal flu? It is easy to mistake one for the other as the symptoms overlap. While both the flu and the common cold are respiratory illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. The flu will make you feel much worse with the symptoms being intense when compared to having a runny or stuffy nose when you have a cold. Contracting the flu can, in some cases, lead to serious health complications such as pneumonia or hospitalisations. To put it simply, colds are milder than the flu.
What is the cold?
The common cold is an air-borne upper respiratory infection caused by a virus. Colds are more common during the winter months as most cold-causing viruses thrive in low humidity. It spreads when someone sick sneezes or coughs, sending infected droplets through the air.
What are the symptoms of the cold?
A common cold rarely has symptoms of fever above 101 degrees and they generally do not result in serious health problems. If you have the cold, you will see symptoms like:
- A runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Slight body aches
- Mild tiredness
How can you prevent a cold?
While there’s no cure for the cold, you can always prevent it by practicing good hygiene. As colds spread easily, avoiding is the best prevention. Try to keep away from anyone who’s sick and when you are sick, keep away from others to not infect them. Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth and cover them when you cough or sneeze.
What is the flu?
Influenza or the flu is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The flu is generally seasonal unlike the cold which you can catch anytime throughout the year. In the UAE, the flu outbreaks usually happen in winter and occur as early as October and continue till May.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Since a common cold also mimics the same symptoms as the flu, special tests must be done within the first few days of the illness to tell if a person has the flu.
People who have flu often feel some or all these symptoms:
- fever or feeling feverish/chills
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches
- sore throat
- fatigue (tiredness)
- some people may have vomiting and diarrhoea, though this is more common in children than adults
How can you prevent the flu?
The virus is extremely contagious, and air borne which means it spreads through coughing and sneezing.
The best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu shot which is widely available this time of year. Most doctors recommend getting the flu vaccine in October or at the very start of flu season. However, you can still get the vaccine in late fall or winter. The flu vaccine can help protect you from getting the flu and can make the illness less severe if you do catch the flu. The point to keep in mind here is that it takes 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect.
It also helps to keep yourself away from carriers of the disease and maintain good hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds to slough germs off the skin. Also, keep your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes to prevent infecting yourself with the disease.
What is the flu vaccine?
A flu vaccine can protect you against the four main influenza viruses that are expected to be the most common during that year’s flu season.
Flu vaccine protects against the main subtypes of influenza viruses. Most flu vaccines protect against four different flu viruses, called a quadrivalent vaccine. Quadrivalent vaccines are available in over 60 Aster Clinics across the UAE.
The flu can develop into a more serious condition, such as pneumonia, and can affect children and adults differently and adversely. This is especially true for people with weaker immune systems like:
- young children under the age of five
- older adults over the age of 65
- pregnant women
- people with health conditions that weaken their immune system, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes
If the risks of developing complications are higher for you, you should see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms.
How should I get the flu vaccine?
While a single dose of the flu vaccine should be administered to adults, 2 doses are recommended for children being vaccinated for the first time. Children between the age of 6months – 8years, should be administered the first dose early in the flu season and the second dose at least 4 weeks later.
To learn more about the flu vaccine, click here. Walk-in to your nearest Aster Clinic for a flu vaccine today and protect yourself and your family against the flu!