Mother Always Says...
keesto | 1/18/2013, 8:12 p.m.
by Dr. Eric Griggs, MD
"Put on a hat before you go outside or you'll catch a cold...
How many times have we heard that said before walking out the door? Whether these statements were true or not the message was always clear: "Take care of yourself and be careful out there." Here, in the heart of an epic cold and flu season, I can think of no better topic to address than one of the big myths circulating with regards to the common cold and the flu. Though the flu has been around since the time of Hippocrates (and likely before), myths and folk tales persist. It is important to know the facts.
Myth: "The flu is just nothing more than a 'bad cold.' "
The viruses that cause the "flu" and the common cold are two different classes of virus. The common cold is a short-lived (usually no longer than a week) respiratory illness that can be caused by hundreds of different viruses, most commonly from a group called the "rhinoviruses." The "flu" is a respiratory illness caused by a family of viruses called the Influenza viruses. It is very contagious and is spread through contact with mucous membranes, particularly those of the eyes, nose and mouth. Its severity can range from mild to severe (pneumonia), and sometimes even death. According to the Center for Disease Control, every year, the influenza virus is responsible for thousands of deaths in the United States. Whereas the common cold generally begins with a slow onset of symptoms and lasts anywhere from 3 days to 1 week, flu symptoms begin much more abruptly and are usually more severe, with symptoms of headache, fever (101.5 degrees), muscle aches, chills, soreness, cough and nasal congestion. These symptoms often gradually improve, but feelings of fatigue and exhaustion have been known to linger for weeks.
The flu spreads in droplets that are transmitted when people cough, sneeze or talk. The droplets either land directly in the mucous membranes (eye, nose, or mouth) of people nearby or on surfaces such as doorknobs or other commonly contacted objects. The contaminated surface is then touched by another person who in turn touches his eyes, nose or mouth and the disease is spread.
The period of contagiousness (period where others can be infected) begins 1 day before symptoms appear and lasts 5-7 days into the disease period. Although there is no cure for the flu, antiviral treatment (i.e.-Tamiflu) has been shown to be effective in shortening the course and reducing the severity of the disease if begun within the first 48 of the appearance of symptoms.
What can be done?
The most important step to take if you suspect flu-virus infection is to go to the doctor. The earlier the medical intervention, the milder the course of the disease.
The best way to help prevent catching the flu is to get vaccinated. Contrary to popular belief, the "flu shot" DOES NOT cause the flu. EVERYONE ages 6 month and older, especially the very young and the elderly, should receive a flu vaccination (by injection or aerosolized) EACH YEAR with no exceptions. Healthy non-vaccinated people die every year from influenza virus infection. Don't become a statistic. If there are any questions or concerns as to whether or not you should receive the vaccine, ask your doctor.
Otherwise, listening to your mother's advice is key. Though catching the flu or a cold because it is cold outside may not be true, the fact that during cold and flu season proper rest, hydration and eating well-balanced meals are crucial. The emphasis should be on REST. Allow your body adequate time to fight the day's battles. Life moves fast. Slow down and take care of yourself. Also important to remember; WASH YOUR HANDS frequently, particularly when you have been exposed to large crowds. Just because you have been taking the proper precautions does not mean that the rest of the population has followed suit.
Prescription for the Week: Wash your hands. GET REST. Get a flu shot and always listen to your mother. Get checked. Get fit. Get moving!
For more info on Cold vs. Flu, see the chart below: