Differences between colds and flu highlighted

Flu is a much more serious illness
  • Deborah Condon

Flu season has officially begun and a new campaign aims to help people understand the differences between flu and the common cold.

There are over 200 types of cold virus and most adults will get between two and four colds per year, while children can get up to 10.

However, compared to the common cold, flu is much more serious. It is a highly contagious viral illness that kills between 200 and 500 people in Ireland every year, therefore it is important that people know the difference between the two.

A cold usually starts gradually and involves a runny nose and sore throat, however flu tends to come on quicker and involves a high fever which lasts three to four days.

With a cold, headches are rare and general aches and pain are minor, however with flu, headaches are prominent and general aches and pains can be severe.

Fatigue and weakness tend to be quite mild with the common cold, however with the flu, these can last up to three weeks. Extreme exhaustion tends to be early and prominent with flu, but is absent in the case of a cold.

A stuffed nose, sneezing and sore throat are all common with a cold, but may not occur with the flu.

The campaign by Boots Ireland aims to raise awareness of these differences and encourage people to get the flu vaccine.

"At present, we are seeing very little influenza activity in Ireland, so it's a good time to get the vaccine, as it takes about two weeks to take effect. Getting the flu vaccination is the best preventive measure we have against influenza, especially for people in the at-risk groups," explained Dr Cillian De Gascun, a consultant virologist and laboratory director at the UCD National Virus Reference Laboratory.

He reminded people that antibiotics do not work on colds or flu, however getting the flu vaccine reduces the risk of developing the flu by up to 60%. People in at-risk groups are particularly urged to get the vaccine. These include those over the age of 65, pregnant women, healthcare workers and those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

"There are lots of easy steps you can take to ensure you feel well this winter and one of the best is to ensure you are vaccinated against the flu virus, as it's the best way to help prevent getting and spreading the flu," commented Boots pharmacist, Susan O'Dwyer.

As well as getting the flu vaccine, she offered the following tips to help people stay well this winter:
-Eat a healthy diet. Try to avoid processed foods and cook meals at home where possible
-Try to get seven-to-nine hours sleep per night
-Try to build exercise into your daily routine
-Quit smoking or cut down. Smokers are more at risk of respiratory infections during the winter months
-Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap to help stop the spread of germs
-Carry tissues if you have a cold. You can avoid passing it on by sneezing into a tissue, binning the tissue and washing your hands after
-Try to control stress as it weakens the immune system
-Be aware of the differences between colds and flu and get advice from your pharmacist when you start to feel unwell.

Flu season usually lasts from October to April.


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