My co-worker and I share an office, and he was sick and coughing. Now I’m sick with a sore throat, cough and fever. I’m coughing up green and yellow colored mucous.
How do I decide whether to tough this out or get checked out? Could it be the flu even though I had a flu shot?
Respiratory infections such as colds and influenza frequently occur in the winter and are usually caused by viruses. More than 200 different viruses can cause colds, and different kinds of respiratory illnesses may have similar symptoms.
Adults on average get two to three colds every year, and children get five to 10 every year. Influenza, a respiratory infection, results in 200,000 hospitalizations each year. There are some similarities and differences between the common cold and influenza.
The common cold usually comes on gradually. Symptoms of the common cold include a sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing and sometimes a low-grade fever. With a cold, people may feel sick, tired and rundown.
The symptoms of a cold are noticeable and bothersome but many people are still able to do most of their daily activities. Symptoms last around seven to 10 days and treatment includes rest and fluids. Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate symptoms, but ultimately the body will fight the virus and make a full recovery unless complications occur. The common cold is caused by a virus, and antibiotics do not improve or cure symptoms.
Influenza is also caused by a virus, and symptoms tend to come quickly. A person can go from feeling well to experiencing a sudden onset of flu symptoms within several hours. The flu is a respiratory viral infection and it is not the same as the “stomach flu” that causes vomiting and diarrhea.
Flu symptoms are more severe than the common cold. Influenza symptoms include fever (usually higher than 101 degrees), chills, sore throat, headache, dry cough, runny nose, fatigue, weakness and body aches. Children may have upset stomach and vomiting, but adults usually do not.
With the flu, people may not be able to do their usual daily activities because symptoms tend to be more severe. Anyone can get the flu, including those who receive a flu shot annually. But you’re most likely to get the flu if you are around others infected with the flu, work in a health care setting or have a weakened immune system.
The flu symptoms also improve after seven to 10 days. In some cases, antiviral medication is prescribed to help a person improve sooner. Ideally, medication should be started within 48 hours of when the flu symptoms start. To ease flu symptoms, push fluids such as water and juice — at least six glasses of liquids a day. Extra fluids help loosen secretions in your nose and lungs. Rest, and consider acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and body aches.
If symptoms do not improve, a respiratory infection can worsen and lead to serious complications. Older adults and young children, or people with chronic diseases are more at risk for flu.
Worsening cough, shortness of breath and fever could indicate that the respiratory infection is turning into bronchitis or pneumonia. Respiratory infections can also exacerbate chronic conditions such as asthma, lung disease, diabetes and heart failure. If your cough is not improving, your health care provider might order a chest x-ray. If complications occur, antibiotics, steroids or other medications may be prescribed for treatment.
Germs spread through touch, so limit touching your eyes, nose or mouth or sharing food and eating utensils with people who are sick. Use plenty of soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer to keep your hands germ free. If you are sick, stay at home and avoid close contact with others to prevent spreading your illness and urge other colleagues to do the same.
Ask your health care provider about the pneumonia vaccination and the flu shot. While not 100-percent effective in preventing all forms of influenza, the flu shot is recommended.
There are many strains of the flu virus, and medical experts predict which strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Each year, the flu shot may be customized to combat the most likely forms of the illness.
In short, if you experience a very sudden onset that includes a consistent fever and body aches that put you out of commission for several days, you may have the flu. Once you have the flu, there is no magic cure. But liquids, rest and over-the-counter fever-reducing medication can help. See your care provider if symptoms worsen.
’Tis the season!