By Dr. Dave Hnida

DENVER (CBS4) – Is it the dreaded flu, or just a simple cold? It’s a common questions these days as respiratory infections make the rounds along the Front Range, complicated by the fact that this year’s flu season has decided to start a couple months earlier than usual. And that’s a problem as many people have not been able to get their flu vaccines yet.

Every infection is different, but breaking down the nuts and bolts of a cold or influenza is fairly basic.

flu Is It Simply A Cold, Or The Dreaded Flu?

(credit: CBS)

Here’s a few ways to tell the difference:


Sudden onset. Fine one second, sick the next.

Fever is more common with flu (especially in the range above 101 degrees)

So are body and muscle aches.

While the flu typically starts with some runny nose, it quickly drops into the chest with a severe cough.

Nausea and vomiting are a little more common with influenza.

Headache tends to be a big pounding symptom of influenza.

flu shot 6pkg Is It Simply A Cold, Or The Dreaded Flu?

Dr. Miguel Mogyoros with Kaiser Permanente Colorado gets a flu shot (credit: CBS)

And most comply, the flu makes you feel as if you were run over by a truck. It’s not unusual to walk in to see a patient, and if you see them laid out on the exam table, flu comes to mind quickly.

While there is no test for the common cold or respiratory bug, we do have flu tests we can run in the office or clinic. And if positive, we can usually help you with a prescription of a medication called Tamiflu, which lessens the duration and severity of the illness-that’s provided you start it within 3 days or less of becoming sick.

flu shots 6pkg frame 862 Is It Simply A Cold, Or The Dreaded Flu?

Flu Vaccine (credit: CBS)

Now for some non-so-trivial facts about flu:

It tends to be contagious before a person gets sick. In other words, you can be with someone who seems perfectly fine on Monday, but they are spewing germs 24 hours before they are ill in bed on Tuesday.

Typically, flu is spread by a cough, a sneeze, or a nose wipe. Then all someone needs to do is touch a countertop or doorknob, and you’ve picked up the germ. Even worse, there’s a lot of time to do that—the influenza organism can survive on a dry surface for up to 24 hours.

As for the sneeze or cough itself, experiments show that the microscopic droplets can carry across a room to a surface or you a distance of about 6-7 feet.

child vaccine vaccination shot flu generic Is It Simply A Cold, Or The Dreaded Flu?

(credit: CBS)

When you do get sick, you’re contagious for a while. Fever returning to normal is a good sign, but continued body aches and cough means your someone no one wants to be around. And that’s the hard part— you want to get moving, but your body isn’t cooperating. It can take 2-3 weeks to get your sea legs back. And since your immune system has been so stressed, you are more prone to pick up yet another bug if you venture out into the world.

Take your time, and allow yourself a chance to recover.

Flu is truly nothing to sneeze at. I’ve seen strong men and women knocked off their feet sicker than they’ve ever been just from catching a case of flu.

flu shots Is It Simply A Cold, Or The Dreaded Flu?

Flu shots (credit: CBS)

Your best defenses: lots of handwashing. Plenty of a healthy lifestyle—meaning no overwork. Don’t over exercise—it can actually suppress your immunity. And finally, get that flu shot. Sure, it’s not perfect, but getting one increases your chances of fighting off, or recovering from the flu more quickly than someone who doesn’t think they need an immunization

Let’s all try to stay upright this season. The nasty bug is already here but it’s still not too late to prevent it.

Good luck!

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida



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