There may be no cure for the common cold, but there is something we can do to ward off the more serious condition: influenza
Both influenza, otherwise known as the 'flu, and the common cold are contracted through viruses spread by moisture droplets in the air, or by contact with contaminated surfaces. But the similarities end there. Symptoms of the common cold affect the respiratory tract and usually include an itchy throat and a runny nose, whereas symptoms of the flu can affect other areas of the body and can lead to complications, as can pneumonia which is even more serious.
Dr Rob Hicks from the Randolph Surgery in London explains the quickest way of distinguishing between the two is the ‘ten-pound note’ test. "If you are able to pick up a note off the floor without any difficulty or pain, you more likely to be experiencing a common cold than the flu."
Flu epidemics tend to peak during the winter, though it’s a myth that they’re caused by us being cold.
The two main flu viruses are influenza A and influenza B. Influenza A can be found in humans and many animals such as chickens, pigs and ducks, while influenza B is exclusive to humans. Type A is far more likely to mutate to a new antibiotic-resistant form (which is why you need a new vaccination each year). A famous example of an influenza A pandemic was the swine flu outbreak in 2009 to 2010. Contrastingly, influenza B is behind smaller outbreaks and predominately affects young children.
See Also: Cold or Flu?
Spotting the Symptoms
Flu is highly contagious and symptoms can appear extremely quickly. Symptoms include a sudden fever, a runny nose, a cough, a sore throat, muscle pain, joint pain, irritability, headaches, insomnia, a loss of appetite and dehydration. You can recover more quickly by getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated and taking ibuprofen to treat pains.
Certain groups are far more likely to experience complications following flu, for example those above the age of 65, individuals working in the health sector and pregnant women.
See Also: How To Prevent Flu
Children (who are regarded as 'super spreaders') may be administered a live quadrivalent 'flu vaccine in the form of a nasal spray, free through their schools; for adults a quadrivalent injected vaccine is used, or for older patients a trivalent injected vaccine mixed with adjuvants to boost the immune system and the overall effectiveness of the vaccine.
If you are pregnant, you are strongly advised to have an injectable form of the vaccine, due to the higher risks involved. The NHS reports that receiving a flu vaccine will decrease your likelihood of developing flu-related complications like pneumonia, cut your risk of facing a miscarriage or giving birth to a premature baby and post birth, for a short duration, a flu vaccine can even aid with defending the baby’s immune system against flu. Expecting mothers can have a flu vaccination at any point in their pregnancy, and you too, fathers-to-be!
You should qualify for a free 'flu jab if you suffer from asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic forms of heart, kidney, or liver disease, neurological conditions, obesity, diabetes, a weakened immune system, or if you have spleen related problems.
Frontline health and social care workers and primary carers, due to their more frequent exposure to pathogens, are also entitled to a free NHS 'flu vaccine.
See Also: Recent Flu Warnings: Getting Vaccinated
Can’t Catch This
Pathogens spread by the 'flu virus can remain on hands and surfaces for up to 24 hours, so to prevent the spread of 'flu, good hygiene is paramount. Make sure you sneeze into a tissue, not on the poor person on the train next to you. Wash your hands frequently—you don’t have to invest in antibacterial soap or expensive, lavender-smelling hand gels, as regular soap can be just as efficient at fighting the 'flu.
This feature was originally published in the winter edition of Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones, which you can read here