The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, according to the Centers Disease Control and Prevention. Colds are usually milder than the flu.
What are the symptoms of the flu versus the symptoms of a cold?
The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.
How long is a person with the flu contagious?
In general, about a week. People with the flu may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after. However, children and people with weakened immune systems can infect others for longer periods of time, especially if they still have symptoms.
If you have the flu, stay away from others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. If you must leave home, for example to get medical care, wear a face mask if you have one, or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Wash your hands often to keep from spreading flu to others.
The flu is estimated to cost employers more than $9 billion in lost productivity this year.
How long should you stay home with the flu?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (except to get medical care or other necessities). Your fever should be gone for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.
Check with your child's daycare or school before sending your child back. Many have rules and it’s generally at least a full day after they don't have any fever without medication.
MORE: Is it too late to get a flu shot?
MORE: Have the flu? Atlanta archbishop advises ill Catholics to skip Mass
MORE: 8 things you need to know about this year's really bad flu season
What are some home remedies to help you get over the flu?
Drink plenty of fluids. The flu can leave you dehydrated, especially if have been vomiting or have diarrhea. Water is fine, but so are herbal teas, and electrolyte beverages. Try to stay away from caffeinated beverages because caffeine is a diuretic. Chicken soup is good for soothing both cold and flu symptoms. The hot soup can helps break up the congestion associated with both colds and the flu. Be a couch potato. Watch movies, rest.
Over the counter medications including acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) can help with fever and pain relief. Each medication has risks. Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist which medication is right for you. Children should avoid aspirin.
Should I take an antiviral drug like Tamiflu?
When treatment is started within two days of becoming sick with flu symptoms, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by about one day, according to the CDC. They may also reduce the risk of complications such as ear infections in children, and pneumonia and hospitalizations in adults. For people at high risk of serious flu complications, early treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of more severe illness that might require a hospital stay. This medication must be prescribed by a doctor.
The most common reported side effects are naseau and vomiting.
The drug's warning label also notes those taking Tamiflu may be at an increased risk of confusion or abnormal behavior. Have a discussion with your doctor about whether it's a good idea to take this medication.
READ: DeKalb Schools student dies from flu virus
When is it time to call the doctor?
If you do get sick and think you may have the flu, contact your health care provider right away, particularly if you or family members are at high risk for serious flu complications — young children (under the age of 5), those over 65, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or asthma.
Even young, healthy adults should call their doctor if symptoms don’t improve or get worse after three to four days of illness.
Antivirals such as Tamiflu or Relenza that can reduce the duration of flu symptoms but the medication needs to be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to be most effective.
When should you seek immediate medical attention?
There are times when the flu can lead to serious complications, and medical attention is needed. The following signs may indicate that your body may not be able to fight off the flu on its own:
Chest or stomach pain
Dizziness or lightheadedness
These red flags are the same for adults and children. However, with sick kids, seek immediate medical treatment when the following takes place:
Fatigue or irritability that does not respond to consoling
Confusion or headache that doesn’t go away
Back pain or weak legs or feet.
Severe muscle pain and/or red urine.
READ: The agony of ER waits: Flu season is making them worse
READ: Father of Coweta teen who died of flu asks, "Why?"
Click this link to check out the wait times: https://hospitals.myajc.com/