Flu? Cold? Or Something Else?
PHILADELPHIA, PA. - January 24, 2011 (WPVI) -- From doctors' offices to in-store clinics, the sick are coming in rising numbers, many saying they have "the flu."
Many probably do have influenza, however, the vast majority have what's described as "influenza-like illnesses," or ILIs.
These are colds, and other upper respiratory viruses which share some symptoms of the flu, but aren't truly influenza.
The flu is actually very different from a cold. While more than 100 different viruses can cause a cold, there are only 3 viruses which cause influenza - types A, B, and C.
Flu epidemics and outbreaks are caused by the Type A and B viruses. Type C is milder, and usually causes less severe respiratory symptoms.
Vaccines are aimed at the type A and B flu viruses, and the vaccine blends from year to year, as the strains mutate. However, there is no immunization or flu shot for type C virus.
The flu is highly contatagious, and spreads when you either inhale droplets in the air from an infected person, or when you come in direct contact with them. Kissing, hand-to-hand contact, and the use of shared objects are all ways to pick up the flu viruses. The virus gets into your body when you touch your hands to your nose, eyes, or mouth.
When you feel "miserable, like I've been hit by a truck," you've got true influenza. If your head is congested, chances are it's a cold or sinus infection.
Symptoms of the flu include:
* fever (usually high)
* severe aches and pains in the joints and muscles and around the eyes
* generalized weakness
* "looking sick": drained appearance with warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
* dry cough
* sore throat and watery discharge from your nose
Seasonal flu doesn't generally cause stomach problems, such as diarrhea and vomiting. However, those are more common with H1N1 swine flu.
On the other hand, colds usually start abruptly with a sore throat.
Other symptoms include:
* Sometimes low-grade fever - below 101
During the first three days you have cold symptoms, you are VERY contagious. So this is the time to stay away from others.
Sinus infections are another common ailment in winter. Area walk-in clinics tell Action News it was the primary complaint last winter, and is again leading the "sick list" this year.
Signs of an acute sinus infection include:
* Facial pain/pressure
* Nasal stuffiness
* Nasal discharge
* Loss of smell
Additional symptoms may include:
* Bad breath
* Dental pain
Winter is the peak season for flu because the virus survives for longer periods indoors, where the relative humidity of the air is very low in comparison to the outside air.
The flu virus can stay suspended in the air longer during the winter.
In winter, we also tend to have longer, closer contact with each other indoors, making it easier to spread.
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