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PUBLISHED: 1:32 PM on Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Cold or flu? Knowing the difference
The Symtoms

Cold

• Onset is gradual

• Stuffy nose and sore throat

• Chest discomfort and coughing

• May have slight aches and pains

Flu

• Onset is sudden

• Fever, between 102-104 degrees

• Severe aches, pains

• Extreme fatigue and exhaustion lasting two-three weeks

Source: Centers for Disease Control

George Durst went to bed with a sore throat.

He woke up with a fever. During the day, he got body aches, then chest congestion.

"And from there on, it was major," Durst said. "I could hardly breathe, and the fever went up."

It went up to 105 degrees, and Durst was down for the count.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 5 percent and 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications. About 36,000 die from those complications.

On the other hand, Americans suffer from an estimated 1 billion colds each year, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Children average about six to 10 colds each season, and adults average two to four.

Effects of the flu can linger for weeks, while a cold usually runs its course in a matter of days.

"I got the flu in January," Durst said. "By the end of January, I thought I was doing better, and I resumed my normal activities. I wasn't all over it, and it came back a second time. I wasn't all over it until mid-March. It cost me two months, and two weeks of my vacation."

Another difference between the maladies is that a cold can develop in several days, but the flu hits fast and hard.

"It's like somebody hit you behind the knees," said Martha Froetschner, head of the communicable disease department of the Shawnee County Health Agency. "It puts you in bed. You have a severe headache, a high fever, a very, very sore throat, almost instant chills and severe body aches."

Froetschner said the best line of defense for both flu and a cold is prevention -- stay away from crowds, wash your hands frequently and cover your mouth when you sneeze, preferably with a handkerchief or a tissue that can be thrown away.

Receiving a flu shot each year also is recommended, especially for high-risk individuals, such as infants, the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions and health-care workers.

If it is too late for prevention, Froetschner said a person should go to bed, drink a lot of fluids and take an over-the-counter painkiller. If symptoms don't abate within 24 to 48 hours, call a doctor because the flu easily can lead to pneumonia or other serious health conditions.

Rest is the best treatment, she said. Both ailments are caused by a virus, which must run its course. Getting adequate sleep helps the body fight the virus.

Drinking fluids with a sore throat, which is a symptom of both the flu and a cold, can be difficult. Froetschner said tepid fluids can be the most soothing. She recommended drinking gelatin that has cooled but not begun to congeal. Warm tea with honey or lemon, or even old-fashioned chicken soup, also can be soothing, Froetschner said.

While most over-the-counter painkillers work well, several studies have linked aspirin use to the development of Reye's syndrome in children recovering from the flu or chickenpox.

The syndrome is a rare but serious illness that can lead to permanent brain damage or death. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children and teenagers not be given aspirin or medicine containing aspirin when they have a viral illness.

Froetschner said it is easy to tell the difference between a cold and the flu.

If you wonder which one you have, she said, it is probably a cold. When you have the flu, you know it.


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