The best way to prevent the spread of the cold, flu and other viruses is to follow these four basic steps:
- Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow or tissue. Throw used tissues away immediately.
- Stay home if you feel sick.
- Seek medical assistance if your symptoms become more severe or you experience a fever above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit
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Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious disease caused by three viruses: influenza A, B and C. It attacks the respiratory tract, including the nose, throat and lungs.
Type A is usually responsible for large outbreaks and is a constantly changing virus. New strains of type A develop regularly and cause new epidemics every few years. Type B causes smaller outbreaks, and type C usually causes mild illness.
The flu is different from a cold. While both are caused by viruses, high fever, headaches and extreme exhaustion are much more common with the flu. The flu can also cause serious complications, such as bronchitis and pneumonia for certain high-risk groups.
Anyone can get the flu, even healthy people, and serious problems can happen at any age. It is usually recommended that college students get a flu shot because it is easily spread in residence halls and other typical college settings.
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Body aches
- Loss of appetite
The common cold is an inflammation of the upper respiratory tract most often caused by one of the more than 100 types of rhinovirus.
People may get multiple colds throughout their lifetimes, generally with a different rhinovirus causing a similar cluster of cold symptoms. A cold typically lasts 3-7 days, but it is not uncommon for some symptoms to persist up to two weeks. A cold is different than the flu, which is caused by the influenza virus and is associated with high fever and more severe symptoms.
Cold symptoms can last from two to 14 days, but two-thirds of people recover in a week. If symptoms occur often or last much longer than two weeks, they may be the result of an allergy rather than a cold.
- Runny or stuffed nose
- Sore or scratchy throat
- Hoarseness/headaches and muscle aches
- Blocked/popping feeling in ears
- Cough (often occurs four-to-five days into cold)
- Postnasal drip
- Watery eyes
- Decreased appetite
- Low grade fever
There is no cure for the common cold. Antibiotics, which are only effective against bacteria, are not necessary or curative for cold or flu viruses.
In fact, overuse of antibiotics for colds can lead to bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics. Most treatments for colds are for symptom relief, but cannot shorten or cure the cold. The symptoms of colds are self-limited. They will go away over time, even with no treatment.
Tips to stay healthy:
- Keep well-hydrated, and drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day
- Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep
- Lozenges/cough drops/sore throat sprays soothe the throat
- Humidifying the air, steam in a hot shower can help congestion symptoms
- For nasal congestion/drip, try pseudoephedrine (e.g. Sudafed) or saline irrigation (e.g. sinus rinse)
- For fever, body aches, headache and sore throat, try acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, or use hand sanitizer
- Avoid sharing eating and drinking utensils
- Avoid people who have colds
See a doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Fever of 100 for more than three days, especially with very sore throat
- Fever of 101 or more at any time
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Severe pain in chest, face, head, ears and throat
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Cold symptoms lasting over two weeks, which steadily worsen instead of improving
- Painful swelling of neck glands
- White patches on your throat or tonsils
- Exacerbation of asthma symptoms
- If you catch a cold but also have a serious chronic illness or immunosuppression