Recognizing the Symptoms of Flu

Recognizing the Symptoms of Flu

Flu season is upon us in Georgia. The CDC reports that Georgia is one of eight states where there is widespread flu activity. Flu season usually peaks in mid to late winter, and approximately 5% to 20% of the population will get the flu each year. How can you tell whether you have the flu or just a bad cold? When should you see a doctor?

Flu and colds have much in common. Both illnesses are respiratory infections caused by viruses, and both can make you feel miserable. They have some symptoms in common. However, colds generally begin more slowly, with symptoms coming on over several days. Flu symptoms come on rapidly and seem more severe. Flu symptoms usually include a high fever, sometimes as high as 104 degrees, severe body aches, and extreme exhaustion. Cold sufferers rarely have a fever, or have a low grade one at worst. Body aches are generally mild. Sneezing and stuffing nose are not common with the flu, but are common with a cold. The flu usually produces chills, severe chest discomfort, a dry unproductive cough, and a headache. There may also be dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. A sore throat may be present. With colds it is common to have sneezing, nasal congestion, a sore throat, and a productive cough. People usually recover from a cold in a few days or a week. Flu sufferers can be ill for much longer.

The flu can have serious complications, including bronchitis and pneumonia. These complications can lead to hospitalization. Not much can be done for a cold except to treat the symptoms. However, if you think you have the flu you should see a doctor. Prescription anti-viral medication can shorten the duration of the flu, but the treatment must start within 48 hours of the first symptoms. Pregnant women, adults over the age of 55, and children under age two should always see a doctor if they have flu symptoms. Those with chronic health problems such as asthma, diabetes, lung disease, and heart disease should also see their doctor when flu symptoms present.

The best protection against the flu is to get the flu shot every year. Washing hands often with soap and warm water is also helpful. Alcohol based hand sanitizers can be used at times when you are unable to wash. Avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth as viruses are often introduced into the body through the mucus membranes. If you do come down with flu symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

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