Can-Do-Ability: Answers and Solutions from my personal experiences of living with a disability

Influenza Vs The Common Cold

18 May 2012With cold and flu season fast approaching here in Oz, I thought it might be helpful to share some facts and myths with you all about how to stay healthy this winter.

Almost two years ago now, I had a cold that turned into bronchitis, which I had never had before, so it really scared me. I had temperatures, vomiting, headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue and I lost my voice.

At one stage, I thought I would have to be admitted to hospital, which frightened the hell out of me, because a large number of people with brittle bones (OI), which is what I have, have died from complications of pneumonia, because of their short stature, so I was terrified that my bronchitis would turn into that.

Luckily though, having a nurse for a mum, I was given the best advice to knock it on the head straight away. My local doctor correctly diagnosed me with bronchitis, prescribed me antibiotics and told me to rest and use a nebuliser to help ease the breathing difficulties that I was experiencing.

Ever since my brush with pneumonia, I have tried to remain very aware of any signs of bacterial infections, and keep myself as healthy as possible. So to help you too avoid catching anything that could be potentially deadly, here are some great tips on how to stay as well as can be…

Firstly, there is a difference between a cold and the flu. A cold is a viral infection, which is contracted from contact with other sick people, it generally makes us feel a bit tired, stuffed up, have a sore throat and feel snotty. Colds usually will only hang around for a week or so.

The flu on the other hand, is from a bacterial infection, which is also transmitted through close contact with other sick people. The flu can last a lot longer, up to three weeks, and produces a lot more severe side effects. The flu can bring on ailments such as aches, fatigue, fevers, coughing and sneezing, as well as general cold symptoms.

One of the biggest problems with colds and flu is the fact that people either aren't diligent enough with preventing the spread of illnesses, or they aren't aware of how easily the viruses can be spread.

Did you know that the flu virus can last up to one hour on hands and in closed spaces, and up to eight hours on surfaces made of stainless steel and plastic, so cleanliness is the key to keeping infections at bay.

To ensure infections aren't passed on from one person to another, hands must be washed, surfaces and common objects like remote controls, door handles, keyboards and phones need to be wiped down, the mouths of sick people are to be covered when coughing or sneezing, dirty tissues are to be thrown straight in the bin. People who are ill should stay home and away from the public, to avoid spreading their illness to others.

Other ways to prevent spread is by immediately washing hands after handling anything that could potentially carry bugs, before touching your face. If you are unable to get to a tap with soap, antibacterial gel is a great way to keep your hands clean.

Keeping healthy before infections begin is the best key. Eating vitamin rich foods and doing plenty of exercise will keep illnesses away and shorten their length and severity if they do happen to affect you. Doctors also recommend that once symptoms begin, to take zinc lozenges, vitamin C tablets, Echinacea and eating plenty of garlic to reduce the length and severity.

The most important thing to remember though, is not to run straight to the doctors asking for antibiotics, unless you have been formally diagnosed with an antibacterial infection that doesn't seem to be going away with recommended rest and plenty of fluids.

The more people take antibiotics when it's not necessary, the more they are killing off the good bacteria in their body, which leaves their immune system weakened and open to more infections in the near future. It can also prevent bugs from being killed off by antibiotics in the future, and they can come back with more force, and last longer.

However, if you have young children, are pregnant, are over 65, have asthma or diabetes, you should see your doctor as soon as you start to notice symptoms, just to ensure no further complications arise.

The best way to tackle a common cold or the flu is with rest, fluids, vitamins, healthy foods, isolation, staying clean and taking cold and flu tablets that will help reduce symptoms. It has also been proven that chicken soup can help because of its anti-inflammatory properties and honey helps to soothe coughing.

One of the biggest myths that I'd like to bring attention to though, is how people think that being out in the cold, or going to bed with wet hair can cause a cold or flu. This is INCORRECT and is an old wives tale! The only way you can catch a cold or flu is by having it passed onto you from someone else. The reason that people tend to get sicker during winter periods is because they are usually inside more and in closer proximity to each other, so bugs can be transferred a lot easier.

Another myth is that the flu shot gives you the flu, which is incorrect also. The flu shot is made up of inactive flu viruses so cannot cause the flu. A flu shot will also not guarantee that you won't get the flu; it will just insure that you will not get the same strain that you were injected with. Anyone who is at risk of respiratory complications should have the flu shot each flu season, which is between July and September in Australia.

I hope my tips have given you the knowledge to stay healthy this flu season and maybe even taught you something that you didn't know!

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Previous Comments

Docbiz from Ballina posted on 3 Aug 2012
Please correct the sentence "the flu, on the otehr hand is a bacterial infection"because you correctly said later "did you know the flu virus".Type A and B viruses are responsible for the large flu epidemics. Type C flu virus is more sTA-BLE and usually causes milder respiratory symptoms. While the flu vaccine can help protect you from type A and B flu viruses, there is no immunization or flu shot for type C virus.

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