Influenza (or the flu) is not just a ‘bad cold’, though it is more serious than the common cold, and flu-related complications, like pneumonia, kill around 11 000 South African’s each year.
Both are viral respiratory infections – the common cold is caused mainly by coronaviruses or rhinoviruses, and the flu by the influenza virus.
There is no cure for either and both are treated symptomatically, although in flu cases an antiviral drug may be prescribed to shorten the length and severity of the illness.
The flu vaccine
The flu is preventable with vaccination, and it’s especially important for people with chronic diseases, who are pregnant, and those over 65 to have it. The best time to get your flu jab is just before the season starts in June.
Strains of the virus that causes flu change constantly. The World Health Organization predicts which strains are likely to be the most common every year and instructs the vaccine be made accordingly. The vaccine cannot cause the flu (it’s made from inactive virus particles) and rarely has any side effects.
Missed your vaccine shot? Here are 5 ways to naturally beat a cold or the flu:
Do I have a cold or the flu?
Take your temperature. Flu and cold symptoms may be similar, but a common cold rarely causes a fever above 38°C.
Common cold symptoms: a sore throat, runny or blocked nose, sneezing and a cough.
Flu symptoms, along with the above cold symptoms, include; a fever higher than 38°C, headache, muscle and joint aches and pains, fatigue and weakness.
When to see a doctor:
If you’re generally healthy and fit, a cold should start to clear up after about three days and the flu after about a week, although it can last up to two. Look after yourself by resting, drinking plenty of water and avoiding strenuous activity.
You can also try an over-the-counter saline nasal spray to help relieve a stuffy nose, medicated lozenges to ease a sore throat, and an ibuprofen- or paracetamol-based painkiller to lessen any aches.
But seek medical attention if you have:
- A persistent fever for more than three days
- Persist vomiting for more than two days
- Severe headache
- Persistent coughing for more than two weeks
- Severe chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Painful swallowing (could indicate a strep throat)
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