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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Cold or Flu?

Your survival guide for the sniffly, sneezy, achy, queasy season.

An Ounce of Prevention ...

Even though there's no cure for a cold or the flu, you can do a lot to ward off both. Keep these tips in mind during the winter season:

Wash Your Hands
Cold and flu germs are spread by touch. You rub your nose, then touch the telephone. Those germs live long enough for someone else to pick them up. "You can really help prevent colds and flu with good hand washing, or using an alcohol-based gel if you don't have access to water," says Wimbush. Also, wash your hands after blowing your nose, she advises. "Even [using] a tissue, you're still getting some droplets on your hands and touching things."

Exercise Regularly
Every time you walk or run, you're boosting your body's immunity, the natural defense mechanism against viruses. Exercise outdoors, where fresh air will soothe nasal passages dried by central heating.

Eat Your Vegetables
A well-nourished immune system is better able to fight off infections, so fuel it with natural vitamins and antioxidants found in healthy foods. Eat dark-green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits, which are packed with numerous antioxidants, plus vitamins A, C, E, and beta carotene.

Eat Yogurt
A daily dose of yogurt (low-fat is best for your cholesterol levels) may help prevent colds. Researchers believe that the beneficial bacteria in yogurt can fight some cold viruses, possibly by stimulating production of immune system substances that fight disease.

Get a Flu Shot
Flu activity in the United States generally peaks between late December and early March, so it's not too late to get a flu shot in January. Note that antibodies develop in your body and provide protection about two weeks after you get the shot.
How effective is the flu shot? The vaccine prevents the flu in about 70% to 90% of healthy people younger than 65. For elderly people living outside chronic-care facilities (such as nursing homes) and people with long-term medical conditions, the flu shot is 30% to 70% effective.

You can also ask your doctor about prescription flu drugs, which may help shorten recovery time. They must be taken within two days after flu symptoms first appear. They can also help prevent the flu if you have been exposed to someone with the flu, like a sick family member.

Is It a Cold or the Flu?

SymptomsColdFlu
FeverSometimes, usually mildUsual; high (100-102 F; occasionally higher, especially in young children); lasts 3 to 4 days
HeadacheOccasionallyCommon
General Aches, PainsSlightUsual; often severe
Fatigue, WeaknessSometimesUsual; can last 2 to 3 weeks
Extreme ExhaustionNeverUsual; at the beginning of the illness
Stuffy NoseCommonSometimes
SneezingUsualSometimes
Sore ThroatCommonSometimes
Chest Discomfort, CoughMild to moderate; hacking coughCommon; can become severe
Complications
Sinus congestion; middle ear infectionBronchitis; pneumonia; can be life-threatening
Prevention
Wash your hands often; avoid close contact with anyone with a coldAnnual vaccination; antiviral medicine - see your doctor
Treatment
Antihistamines; decongestants; anti-inflammatory medicinesAll listed at left; plus antiviral drugs - see your doctor

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