Colds vs. flus: What’s the difference?Along with presents and leftovers, many people bring home respiratory ailments from their family Christmases each year. The good news is that the seasonal influenza hasn’t been very prevalent in North Dakota so far this year, said Robin Iszler, unit administrator and registered nurse with Central Valley Health District.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
Along with presents and leftovers, many people bring home respiratory ailments from their family Christmases each year.
The good news is that the seasonal influenza hasn’t been very prevalent in North Dakota so far this year, said Robin Iszler, unit administrator and registered nurse with Central Valley Health District.
“I think the weather has certainly helped. People are more able to move about freely,” Iszler explained. “Typically, we see flu happen in the later months of winter — January, February, March.”
There may be a surge in flus and colds when school starts again, or when people start congregating in large groups at church or at sporting events, but so far, only six cases of the flu have been reported in North Dakota since Sept. 1, according to the North Dakota Department of Health.
Some of the illnesses can be averted by taking elementary precautions. At this time of year, people should make an extra effort to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, cover their mouths when they cough and stay home when they’re sick.
“Rest, eat healthy, exercise. You want the best immune system you can (get),” Iszler said. Smoking can also be a factor, because it lowers the immune system and makes people more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.
People should also be sure to get vaccinated against the flu, because it can kill.
The severity of the flu varies quite a bit from person to person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the U.S. alone ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 people.
“Since there’s not a huge amount of the flu in the community yet, there’s no shortage of the vaccine this year,” Iszler said.
Flus and colds
Telling the difference between a seasonal flu and a cold can be difficult.
“In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense,” the CDC’s website says. “… it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.”
Iszler had a handout clarifying the differences in symptoms between the respiratory ailments.
Fevers are rare with a cold, but common with the seasonal flu. Chills aren’t common with a cold, but are common with flus.
People with colds often have a hacking, mucous-producing cough, but people with the flu usually have a drier, non-productive cough. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose than people with flus.
Colds generally involve slight body aches and pains, but with the flu, aching is more common and tends to be worse. While a cold will make a person tired, the flu produces more severe tiredness.
“Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations,” the CDC notes.
Regardless of which respiratory illness is present, if a person experiences severe chest discomfort or can’t keep fluids down and is in danger of dehydration, he or she should get medical attention.
Certain groups of people are more in danger of developing flu-related complications such as bronchitis, sinus infections or pneumonia, according to the CDC.
Children younger than 5, particularly those younger than 2, and adults age 65 and older seem to be two of the groups at most risk, as well as pregnant women and American Indians — “especially young children and the elderly. They can go downhill quickly,” Iszler warned.
People with medical conditions including asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, obesity and people with suppressed immune systems are also at increased risk for complications.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org