Fall is officially here, and with Halloween at the end of the month, the holiday season is kicking off. Along with the holidays, there’s an increase in family gatherings, school parties, and other festivities. These gatherings increase our chances of becoming ill, especially with easily-spread respiratory illnesses like influenza, commonly known as the flu. In this article, we will explain the signs and symptoms of the flu, the difference between the flu and other common respiratory illnesses (cold & covid), and six different ways you can treat yourself at home.
The flu is caused by the influenza virus. According to the CDC, this virus tends to affect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Symptoms of the flu include:
- Muscle & Body Aches**
- Nasal Congestion
- Abnormal Fatigue
- Sore Throat
(** = key distinguishing feature vs. common cold)
These symptoms differ from the average cold (caused by rhinovirus) primarily through the presence of fever. If you or your loved one is suffering from a fever, this is an indication of a possible influenza infection. Another key difference is muscle & body aches. With the average cold, body aches are much less likely to occur – however they are a distinguishing feature of the influenza virus infection.
Due to the overlap in symptoms, it is very important to make sure that your influenza is not actually COVID-19. Making this distinction ensures that you get the proper care and treatment for your symptoms. Similarities between the flu and COVID-19 are indicated in the previously stated symptom list above. In addition to these, headaches, vomiting, and diarrhea can also occur with both.
Differences Between The flu and COVID
|Mild change in taste or loss of smell primarily due to nasal congestion
|Very noticeable and significant loss in taste and smell, more frequent in COVID-19 than the flu
|Symptoms appear within 1-4 days after infection
|Symptoms can appear either 2 days after infection or up to 14 days after infection
Despite the differences between the flu and COVID, it is imperative that you continue to test yourself and those around you for COVID-19 this fall if any flu-like symptoms occur or you are exposed.
Viruses can not be cured, but their symptoms can be treated. A very effective treatment option for the flu are antiviral medications. Antiviral medications are not like antibiotics; they are highly specific to the virus they are attacking. The antiviral medication you take for the flu cannot be taken for COVID-19 and vice versa. These medications also work best when they are taken shortly after symptoms begin – typically within two days. Understand that antivirals are simply an option for influenza treatment and if you choose to utilize them, they are only a second line of defense against the flu. The recommended antiviral drugs and their potential side effects can be found on trusted public health websites such as cdc.gov.
The most effective and first line defense against the flu is vaccination. The flu vaccine is the best preventive measure against the seasonal flu. It can also protect you from the flu’s various complications.
Home Treatment Options
According to the CDC, if you have symptoms you should stay at home, get plenty of rest, and avoid contact with other people until your symptoms resolve. Influenza is a very contagious respiratory virus, typically spreading through close contact. While isolating, it is important that you remain hydrated and get plenty of rest. The body heals well with rest and sleep.
When to seek help
There are many that are at high risk of complications if infected with the influenza virus. This includes young children, people over the age of 65, pregnant people and those with pre existing pulmonary conditions.
If any of these susceptible groups experience these symptoms, they should go to the emergency room immediately:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Fever above 104 degrees
- Dehydration (no urine for more than eight hours)
- Chest Pain
The seasonal flu is a constant reminder that preventive care is best. Make sure to get your influenza vaccine for this holiday season to protect both you and your loved ones.