The sharp rise in coughing, sneezing and wheezing around the office can only mean one thing – cold and flu season has arrived.
Can you tell the difference between the two?
Both are hugely inconvenient and leave you feeling rough as hell, but there are some key things that set the seasonal infections apart.
If you’re reaching for the tissues over the coming months, here’s how to figure out which one you have.
What is the difference between a common cold and the flu?
Both the common cold and the flu are caused by viruses – albeit completely different ones – and they are also both respiratory infections.
The best way to tell them apart is to take a closer look at the symptoms.
A common cold usually leaves you feeling run down for a few days, whereas the flu has the potential to knock you out for a number of weeks.
There’s a risk that the flu develops into more serious health problems, such as pneumonia and though it’s unlikely, it can even result in hospitalisation.
Another key difference is how quickly symptoms set in.
If you feel yourself slowly starting to get ill, it’s likely you’ve been taken down by the common cold. The flu, on the other hand, can strike suddenly and symptoms are also usually more severe and last considerably longer.
What is the common cold and what are the symptoms?
Unless you’re a supernatural being, it’s likely you’ve had the common cold at least once in your lifetime. Some unlucky folk get it every year.
It’s thought that more than 200 different viruses can cause the common cold, but according to the Mayo Clinic ‘rhinoviruses are the most common culprit’.
Common colds also very easy to catch, as the virus can spread via the air or direct contact with someone else who has it (and by sharing items that they use).
There are a number of different symptoms that can signal a common cold.
An initial sore throat can be an indicator, followed by a runny nose or nasal congestion, as well as a cough by day four or five. An individual may also experience a mild fever – but this is more common in children, rather than adults.
Muscle aches, headaches and a loss in taste or smell can also occur.
Basically if you’re feeling run down over winter, it’s likely you have a cold.
Pay the doctor a visit if you get a high fever and if the fever lasts longer than five days, or if you find yourself short of breath.
Additionally, the NHS recommends to see your GP if the cold lasts longer than three weeks.
What is the flu and what are the symptoms?
As we’ve mentioned, flu symptoms are very similar to those of a cold, but come on much faster.
If you have a cold, you can usually get up and carry on with your everyday routine – despite feeling awful – but those with the flu are so exhausted that they are often unable to get out of bed. Headaches and achy muscles also tend to be much worse.
Additional symptoms can include an upset stomach and nausea, as well as a fever. If you have the flu, your body temperature will usually be 38C or above.
Certain people are at a higher risk of getting flu complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections, which can lead to hospitalisation. Some cases can tragically result in death.
For this reason, it’s important to know if you’re in a high-risk group, such as adults aged 65 and over, pregnant women, young children, people with asthma, people who are HIV-positive, people with cancer, people with diabetes and children with neurological conditions.
How to prevent yourself from getting a cold or the flu
When it comes to the common cold, there’s one word that goes a very long way: hygiene.
A cold virus enters the body through the mouth, eyes or nose and can spread through water droplets in the air when a person talks, coughs or blows their nose.
Of course, you can’t help it if someone sneezes in front of you on the bus, but staying as hygienic as possible can pay off.
If you take public transport to work , be sure to wash your hands in warm soapy water after your journey or keep a hand sanitiser close by. The same goes if you work in an office.
You should also avoid sharing cutlery, drinks and towels with anyone who is likely to have an infection.
If you have the early stages of a cold, be sure to discard any used tissues to prevent contamination, and if you’re at high risk of developing the flu, get a vaccine jab for free at the NHS. The jab offers greater protection from various strains of the flu.
Should you get ill, do your best to rest and avoid going into work (so you don’t spread the virus).
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