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How can I tell the difference between a cold and the flu?


Colds and the flu can be very hard to tell apart.  The symptoms of a cold usually come on gradually.  The most common cold symptoms include a run-down feeling, scratch throat, watery eyes, runny nose and sneezes.

You may have a dry cough or headache, but fever in adults with a cold is rare.  Colds seldom develop into more serious problems, but they sure can make life uncomfortable.  Cold symptoms usually last about 10-14 days, the length of time it takes your immune system to fight the virus.

Flu symptoms often appear suddenly.  The flu often begins like a cold, with a runny nose and a general run-down feeling,  but more severe symptoms such as fever, body ache, headache, dry cough, sore throat, weakness or loss of appetite develop abruptly in 1-2 days.  The flu usually lasts 7-10 days, but you may not feel completely recovered for up to 2-3 weeks. 

Visit our cold and flu pages 

How can I keep myself from getting a cold or the flu?


Remember that most cold and flu viruses are transferred from the fingertips to the eyes, nose or mouth where they can enter your body.  Washing your hands frequently in soap and warm water is probably the most effective way to keep cold and flu viruses out of your body.

Try to avoid putting your fingers to your nose or eyes, especially if you have been around people with colds or the flu.

Avoid sharing objects (pencils, towels, telephones, etc.) or beverages with people who have colds or the flu.

Maintain healthy habits (such as adequate rest, good nutrition and daily exercise) that contribute to good general health and well-being.

The flu vaccine is recommended as a way to prevent the flu, especially for people who are at high risk for developing serious complications-such as the elderly and people with lung disease, heart disease, or another chronic illness.

The vaccine is also recommended for individuals who work in health care facilities and are exposed to respiratory illness repeatedly.

The flu shot contains a weakened version of the influenza virus and prepares   your body to fight this yearís influenza virus only.  If you have a flu shot, you will be partially or completely immune to the flu, but you will still have no protection against colds.

For more information on the influenza vaccine see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention influenza vaccination information page.  http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/vaccination/

How do I know when I should go to the doctor?

Call 414-229-4716 and talk to the phone triage nurse when you develop a cold or flu, or call to make an appointment if any of the following apply to  you:
  1. You have bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, heart disease, or any other chronic condition that is worsened by the cold or flu.
  2. You have a temperature of 102 or higher, and the fever has been present more than three days.
  3. You have white spots on your tonsils, the gland is your neck are swollen, and you do  not have a cough.  Or, if there has been a recent known exposure to strep throat.
  4. Your neck feels sore or stiff.
  5. You have pain along the side(s) of  the chest or shortness of breath.  (mid chest pain is common in colds and flu and can be treated with humidity.).
  6. You have pain over the cheekbone or above theyeyes, and you are blowing dark green mucus from the nose.
  7. You have severe ear pain.
  8. You note a change in mental status such as confusion, slow thinking, or excessive sleepiness.
  9. You have a cough that lasts a week longer than other symptoms, or you are coughing up bloody or dark green mucus.

Why won't antibiotics help a cold or the flu?


Antibiotics kill or stop the growth of bacterial, but they have no effect on viruses such as colds or the flu.  Antibiotics should only be used against bacterially caused illnesses like strep throat, bacterial pneumonia, and bacterial skin infections.  There are many other reasons to avoid taking antibiotics unless it is necessary:

Side effects. 
 Your body contains both harmful and helpful bacteria.  The helpful bacteria keep harmful organisms under control.  Unfortunately, antibiotics donít know the difference between harmful and helpful bacteria; they kill them all, permitting other illnesses or side effects to occur.  Yeast infections and diarrhea are two of the possible side effects of taking antibiotics.
Drug-resistant bacteria
 Bacterial become resistant to antibiotics after they have been exposed to them often enough.  When you take an antibiotic, the organisms it affects struggle to survive.  After repeated courses of antibiotic therapy, these organisms may successfully change their structure so that the antibiotic may no longer be effective.

Allergic reactions
 Antibiotics sometimes cause allergic or toxic reactions that may be uncomfortable or even dangerous.  People with allergies to antibiotics may develop rashes, hives, and in rare instances, may even die.

How should I treat my cold or flu?

Unfortunately, doctors really canít do anything for most cases of a cold or flu.  However, you can usually take care of a cold or the flu without a doctorís assistance.  Often, simple home remedies can ease uncomfortable cold or flu symptoms.  If you feel you need some kind of medicine, over-the-counter medications are usually adequate.

For home remedies or over-the-counter medications read our flu page

Does the health center give allergy shots?

The Health center does administer the allergy shots. The cost is $5.00 per visit. However, the health center does not do allergy testing nor prescribe treatment. Therefore students must bring their own medication from their private doctor. It is stored in the Health center and appointments are made for the nurse to administer the allergy shots.

© 2004-2016 NHC. All rights reserved. Last updated: January 30, 2014
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