Flu Shots For Your Busy Family

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Flu Shots For Your Busy Family: Is It a Cold? Or Is It the Flu? And What Do You Do? 

With so many people affected by the common cold and the flu, it may seem impossible to avoid catching one, or both. But you can greatly reduce your chances. Arm yourself with the following information about the common cold and the flu—and don't be the next victim.


Is It A Cold or the Flu?

The symptoms for a cold and the flu are somewhat similar. This easy-to-read chart can help you determine which infection you may have.

cold and flu chart


Facts About the Flu   

The flu is in an infection of the upper respiratory tract. It is caused by the influenza virus and is spread through the air. The flu is highly contagious. When an infected person sneezes, coughs, or speaks, tiny droplets full of flu particles are expelled. Because these droplets are small, they are suspended in the air long enough for another person to inhale them.

The flu and its symptoms are more severe than those of the common cold. The flu can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia. In addition, it can be life-threatening for the elderly, people with lung disease, and anyone with a weakened immune system.


Preventing the Flu

A flu shot can lower your chance of getting the flu. You should get vaccinated between September and January (or later since the flu season can last much longer).

The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over six months of age should get vaccinated against the flu each year. Anyone who wants to reduce their risk of the flu should consider the vaccine.

Hand washing can also prevent the flu. Even if someone in your home has the flu, you can reduce your risk of getting sick by washing your hands. If soap and water are not available, hand sanitizers are also effective.


Treating the Flu

Most importantly, when you have the flu, you need rest. And until your symptoms are gone, it is a good idea to not go back to your full activity level. You also need plenty of liquids.

Antiviral medicines generally may help relieve symptoms and shorten the time you are sick. They must be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms.

Antiviral medicines include:

• Zanamivir (Relenza)—This may worsen asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

• Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)—Some kinds of seasonal influenza virus are resistant to this drug.

• Amantadine (Symmetrel)—Some kinds of seasonal influenza virus are resistant to this drug.

• Rimantadine (Flumadine)—Some kinds of seasonal influenza virus are resistant to this drug.

Oseltamivir (and perhaps zanamivir) may increase the risk of self-injury and confusion shortly after taking, especially in children. Children should be closely monitored for signs of unusual behavior.

To relieve the aches and fever associated with the flu, you can try acetaminophen, found in over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol. For congestion, stuffy nose, and cough, you may want to try a combination of decongestant and antihistamine.


Facts About the Common Cold   

A cold is a minor infection of the throat and nose. More than 200 different viruses are known to cause symptoms of a cold—although rhinoviruses and coronaviruses cause the majority of colds. Cold symptoms usually last about 1-2 weeks. Rarely, a cold can turn into a severe lower respiratory infection in young children.


Treating a Cold

Antibiotics will not cure a cold. In fact, you cannot cure a cold. But, certain things can help you reduce your discomfort. These include:

• Take certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Use caution, though, when giving these medications to children.

• Drink at plenty of water every day. This will help keep you hydrated.

• Avoid alcohol as it promotes dehydration.

• Avoid smoke. It irritates an already sore throat and intensifies a cough.

• Get plenty of rest.

• Use a humidifier—an electric device that puts moisture into the air.


When to Call the Doctor   

You usually do not need to call a doctor if you have signs of the flu or a cold. However, you should contact your doctor if you are at high risk for complications or if you experience any of the following difficulties:

• Your symptoms get worse.

• Your symptoms last a long time.

• After you feel better, you develop signs of a more serious problem. These include: sick-to-your-stomach feeling, vomiting, high fever, shaking chills, chest pain, and coughing with a thick mucus.

Because the four flu medications listed above may be able to reduce the symptoms of influenza and prevent hospitalization and death among high-risk persons (for example, those above age 65, young children, and persons with chronic illnesses requiring frequent medical attention), you and your doctor may choose to develop a “flu” plan if you fall into a high-risk category. By following such a plan you may be able to start taking an anti-flu medication quickly in the (unlikely) event your yearly flu vaccine does not protect you against the symptoms of influenza.

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