While vacationing at the lake house this summer with family, one of the last things you would expect to happen would be to get sick with a cold or flu. However, as mask mandates and social distances guidelines continue to lift, the spread of germs increases. A year ago when the pandemic hit, many people started working from home, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask to help slow the spread of the virus. And with that, cold and flu numbers became almost non-existent.
More recently, however, “urgent care centers report an uptick in adults coming in with a number of viral infections that resemble a common cold or flu, but are not COVID-19,” according to WRGB CBS 6 News, Albany. Medical professionals are encouraging anyone that is experiencing cold and flu symptoms to go see a healthcare provider to rule out other respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19.
Although cold and flu season is more prevalent during the winter and fall months, it isn’t uncommon to catch one any time during the year if you come into contact with someone that has it. Try to stay up-to-date with signs and symptoms of common viruses spreading through your area, as it can be one of the ways to make sure you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe.
Common Symptoms of Cold & Flu
Coming down with a cold or flu is fairly common and something that will most likely happen at least once or twice in your lifetime, and if your immune system is built up well enough, you have a higher chance of having milder symptoms and becoming less ill upon contracting the virus.
The common cold and the flu (also known as influenza), per the Cleveland Clinic, “are infections of the upper respiratory system – the nose, the mouth, throat and lungs; the infections are caused by viruses.”
Although colds and flu symptoms can be similar, cold symptoms are typically milder than the flu and take more time to develop. If you have a cold, you will usually have a runny or stuffy nose, which is different from the flu. Colds also generally do not result in serious health problems that would lead to a trip to the hospital.
Symptoms of colds can include:
- Runny nose (Nasal discharge may have a yellow- or green-colored tint)
- Stuffy nose
- Mild headaches (if any)
- Mild Body aches (if any)
- Mild fatigue (if any)
- Sometimes a loss of appetite
- Sore Throat
- Chest congestion, discomfort (can range from mild to moderate)
- Watery eyes
Symptoms of the flu can include:
- High fever (100 degrees F and high; which can last 3-4 days)
- Sometimes a runny & stuffy nose
- Body aches (which can be severe)
- Fatigue (can last 2-3 weeks)
- Chills, sweat (extreme)
- Nausea & loss of appetite
- Sneezing & sore throat (sometimes)
- Chest congestion, discomfort (can be severe)
- Watery eyes (sometimes)
As of now, there are no medications that can “cure” colds and the flu, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “However, there are many over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that can ease the discomfort caused by the symptoms of colds and flu. In addition, there are prescription medicines and a vaccine that can treat and prevent the flu.”
Interestingly enough, there are antiviral prescription medicines and also an annual flu vaccine that are available for treating and preventing the flu.
Protecting Yourself from Catching Colds & the Flu
Protecting yourself from getting the flu can be tricky. There are several prescription anti-flu medicines, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which can make symptoms milder and can even make you feel better more quickly. However, they are only effective when used in the first 48 hours of exhibiting flu-like symptoms. And, it should be noted that these prescriptions are typically reserved for people who become very sick with the flu or are at risk of complications.
Another way to protect yourself from the flu is by getting an annual vaccine. Even though there is no vaccine against the common cold, the vaccine can help by exposing the immune system to the virus, which then builds antibodies. Besides getting the vaccine, there are other ways to protect yourself against the flu and other common viruses.
Fortunately, whether you are wearing a mask or not, there are ways to help minimize the spread of germs, which will ultimately help protect yourself from catching colds and the flu. In fact, there are courses specifically out there dedicated to the principles and practices of infection control and barrier precautions.
While working at a healthcare facility, try placing signs around entryways for patients and families to learn about proper Respiratory Hygiene/Cough Etiquette. These rules include:
- Cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Dispose of used tissues promptly
- Use a surgical mask if coughing and if tolerated
- Wash hands after contact with respiratory secretions
- Separate at least three feet from persons with respiratory infections in common areas when possible
“Hand washing is one of the most effective methods for preventing patient-to-patient, patient to staff, and staff-to-patient transmission of microorganisms, and it is one the foundations of infection control,” states NYrequirements.com.
In fact, the same course recommends that:
Hands should be washed, or alcohol-based rubs should be used:
- before and after patient contact
- between patient contacts
- after gloves are removed
- after contact with blood, body fluids, secretions, mucous membranes, excretions, and contaminated equipment
- after contact with inanimate objects and medical equipment in the immediate vicinity of a patient
- after using the bathroom
- before eating
- in certain situations, e.g., between tasks on the same patient to prevent cross contamination.
Although soap and water is a simple way to keep germs away, it’s also a “sensible strategy” for hand hygiene in non-healthcare settings and it is recommended by the CDC and other experts.
It may be common to catch a cold or the flu, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be deadly. Sometimes, colds and flu that worsen can lead to pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, ear infections or could worsen existing health problems such as asthma and congestive heart failure. These complications that are triggered by the flu can lead to hospitalization, life-threatening situations and even death.
If you have a cold or the flu and are experiencing symptoms that last or get worse after 10 days, experience shortness of breath or trouble breathing, high fever lasting three or more days, pain or pressure in your chest, coughing up blood, dizziness, severe vomiting, or severe sinus pain, you should call your healthcare provider.
So, even though the cold and flu season isn’t in full swing for another couple of months, it’s always a good idea to stay alert and know the facts, signs and symptoms in order to keep you and your loved ones healthy.
As you start going into work, having more in-person meetings, eating at restaurants, going to the movies and being around more people in general, there’s always a risk for spreading more germs. However, keeping your hands washed and following easy, proper guidelines for minimizing the spread of germs could work in your favor as more people begin to get sick.