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The sniffles. Sore throat, Runny Nose. It could be a cold. Or maybe the flu. McLeod Primary Care Physician Garrett Barton, MD, explains the difference and who benefits from a flu shot.
Here’s a summary of Dr. Barton’s comments:
The flu can be a very polarizing topic. Many people have heard different things about cold and flu from their healthcare provider or their family members, who may or may not have caught flu in the past. The flu is often confused with the common cold. Making it more confusing and difficult to determine what you have, a lot of the times flu season is during the same time as the cold season.
The common cold is actually a group of several viruses. When you get the cold, it’s usually symptoms of runny nose, congestion, sore throat, and you may or may not get a fever for a few days. Usually, symptoms last from 7 to 14 days.
The flu is a general term for the influenza virus. And it does present with similar symptoms. You do get the runny nose and the congestion. With the flu, symptoms are usually more severe and include generalized aches and pains, which are more severe with the flu than with the common cold. Fever is usually a little bit higher with the influenza infection.
There’s no true way to tell the difference. You may need to have some tests to tell if you truly do have the common cold or the flu.
Treatments do vary. We have treatments against the flu. But we do not have treatment, other than symptom management, for the common cold.
The best way to avoid the flu is to have flu vaccine. With flu vaccine, there are several options available for the population, depending on your age. Children around ages six months can start getting the influenza vaccine. And usually, it’s a 2-part dose vaccine that’s different from the vaccine given to the average population under the age of 65. Vaccines that the general population receives include several different inactivated, not live strains of the virus, that is given in a one-time dose.
And as far as the population that’s age of 65 and older, we give them a high dose vaccine that includes a lot of the same strains as the regular general population dose. But it does have a few more things, partly because the immune system wanes as we grow older. Thus, we try to do better job of boosting the immune system in order to protect more mature adults.
Children are more vulnerable, because after birth their immune systems are not developed like an adult’s would be. That’s why you see children receiving a number of vaccines, not just flu vaccine. When we look back to all the studies, including from the CDC, you see that children like elderly population, are at a high risk of having complications from the influenza virus.
When children are vaccinated starting at six months, it reduces flu complications, such as the need for missing school or hospitalization. People don’t just get infected with the flu more often at that age, but when they do get it there is a greater chance of complications. By age 5, a child’s immune system is usually at the point where they still need the flu shot but not the extra protection required by infants.
If you can’t find a primary care physician, you can call McLeod Telehealth to find out if you might have a cold or the flu. To find the app, click here.