Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Cold vs Flu in Adults

Influenza, (flu), and the common cold are caused by viruses. Both are more common in fall and winter. This is mostly due to starting of a new school year and tendency for people to stay indoors where the air tends to be drier.  Dry nasal passages lead to a greater risk for infection. These viruses are able to survive in low humidity.  Humidity levels tend to be lower in colder climates.

It’s a myth that cold chilly weather is the cause of the cold or flu. These viruses can live up to 3 hours on hard surfaces and hands. The virus is spread when one inhales viral particles from an infected individuals cough, sneeze, speech or nasal secretions.  The virus can be picked up from contaminated surfaces like doorknobs, phones, toys, towels, handshakes and even money.

Cold symptoms include sore throat, runny nose, congestion and cough. The flu is similar, but includes fever, headaches, muscle soreness and these symptoms come on fast. Vomiting and diarrhea can also be flu symptoms.

The flu is caused by the Influenza virus types A, B and C with A&B being responsible for seasonal outbreaks. Type A is found in many different animals while B is solely in humans. Over 200 virus strains are known to cause the common cold. Healthy adults are contagious for the flu beginning one day before symptoms even begin, and up to 7 days after becoming ill. This means a healthy individual may transmit the flu even before they know they are sick.

People are most contagious for the common cold during the first 2-3 days of symptoms and rarely contagious after one week of symptoms.

Flu vaccines are the most important step in flu prevention. Antiviral drugs can be used to help treat and prevent flu. Vaccines are about 62% effective against the currently circulating strains according to the Centers for Disease Control.

This is especially important in the elderly where complications can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure. Individuals with chronic diseases including heart disease are at higher risk for complications as well. The vaccine takes about 2 weeks to take affect, so now is the best time.

Consult with your Doctor to make sure you are a qualified candidate for the vaccination. There is no vaccine for the common cold.  Frequent hand washing remains the most important preventive measure.

To stay healthy during this Cold and Flu season, one is best served by avoiding large crowds, staying at home when sick, covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing, avoidance of touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth, getting plenty of sleep and drinking plenty of fluids.

Washing once hands frequently is especially important in preventions of cold and flu.

Antonio Pena is an M.D. at Providence Professional Plaza. He can be reached at 503.230.9224