The "common cold" got its name for
good reason: Colds are the world's most common illness. Few people
manage to escape the viruses that cause a cold. More than 100 such
viruses exist. People in the United States average three colds every
The cold virus usually enters your
body through your nose or throat. Then the virus begins to multiply.
But a cold infection lasts only a week or two.
You may experience all or some of
the symptoms associated with the common cold: sore throat, sneezing,
runny nose, watery eyes, aches and pains, mild fever, nasal
congestion, and coughing.
- Take a mild pain reliever for the
aches and pains and to reduce fever.
- Avoid unnecessary activity and
get as much bed rest as possible.
- Consume extra amounts of fluids,
especially fruit juices.
Although thousands of cough and cold
remedies are available over the counter, none of them will prevent,
cure or even shorten the course of a common cold.
They only relieve symptoms so you
feel more comfortable while you have the cold. Do not take
medication that relieves symptoms you do not have.
no practical way to avoid catching a cold. There is no vaccine that
will protect you from cold viruses. You can, however, take a few
measures to lessen your chances of catching a cold or to help avoid
complications when you do:
- Keep up your natural resistance
through good nutrition and plenty of sleep and exercise.
- Keep the thermostat in your home
down and the humidity up. Overheating your home dries out the air,
which then dries out the mucus membranes in your nose and throat.
The membranes can crack, which may allow cold viruses to enter.
- As much as possible, avoid direct
contact with those who do have colds.
- Wash your hands frequently.
Influenza is a contagious
respiratory infection. For most people, it is not a serious health
Symptoms of influenza include fever,
chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and soreness and aching in
the back, arms and legs. Although the symptoms are similar to those
caused by cold viruses, influenza symptoms are usually more severe
and last longer.
(Abdominal cramps, vomiting or
diarrhea -- often referred to as stomach, or intestinal, flu -- are
not symptoms of influenza.)
Influenza is highly contagious and,
if it occurs in your family or community, there is no practical way
to avoid exposure to the virus. Symptoms generally develop suddenly
about three days after exposure to the virus. Bed rest, a mild pain
reliever and lots of fluids are the best treatment for influenza.
(Caution: Do not use aspirin to treat a child or teenager with an
influenza illness unless advised by a physician.) Antibiotics are
not effective against influenza viruses.
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Typically, people who get the flu
recover in a matter of days. However, for the elderly or those who
have a chronic health problem, influenza can result in serious
complications, such as pneumonia. People in these two high-risk
categories also are more likely to die as a result of the
complications of influenza.
For these reasons, flu shots are
recommended for everyone 50 years of age and older and for those
(even children) who suffer from chronic health problems, such as
heart disease, respiratory problems (including asthma), renal
disease, diabetes, anemia or any disease that weakens the body's
Flu shots do not always prevent a
person from getting influenza. However, in most cases, they do
reduce the severity of the symptoms and protect against
complications that may develop as a result of the virus. Many local
health departments offer influenza vaccine at a reduced cost or
without charge to people at high risk of the disease.
Infants, children and young people
up to 18 years of age who are receiving long-term treatment with
aspirin also should receive a flu shot. Aspirin in the presence of
influenza infection in a child is associated with an increased risk
of a serious disease, Reye syndrome. For this reason, others in this
age group who develop influenza should not be treated with aspirin.
Another mild pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, may be used.
People who have a severe allergy to
eggs or who have had a previous allergic reaction to influenza
vaccine should not get a flu shot without consulting a physician. If
you have questions about whether you should have a flu shot, consult
Because influenza vaccine is
effective for only one year and because viruses vary from year to
year, it is necessary to get a flu shot every year. The new strains
are usually named for the part of the world where they first
occurred; hence, they have names such as Russian, Brazil, Hong Kong
Two antiviral drugs also are
effective in preventing and treating influenza type A infections:
amantadine and rimantadine, both of which require a prescription.
They are not effective against influenza type B and must be
administered within 48 hours of illness onset.
In Illinois, the flu season usually
begins in November and lasts until around the middle of April.
Illinoisans who need flu shots should get them in September or
October, since it takes about two weeks following the inoculation to
develop full immunity to the viruses. However, even a shot in
January may protect against a late-winter outbreak.
Department of Public Health]