Runny nose, eye pain and cough are characteristic of a cold. Fever or slightly raised body temperature, lack of appetite and headache rarely accompany these symptoms. In turn, flu symptoms include fever above 39°C, shivers, headache, and joint and muscle pain. Flu is often mistaken with cold. However, doctors claim that these two diseases are quite easy to distinguish.
A cold or flu?
Professor Lidia Brydak, head of the Department for Virus Research at the National Institute of Public Health - National Institute of Hygiene, emphasises that flu symptoms are not specific; over 200 respiratory viruses active in the same period as the influenza virus can cause them. The National Institute of Hygiene emphasises that the characteristic signs of a cold are usually decreased nasal patency, moderate fatigue, weakness, eye pain, and cough. Fever, slightly raised body temperature, loss of appetite and headache rarely occur. As for the characteristic features of flu – it appears suddenly, the fever exceeds 39°C and lasts one to two days. The accompanying symptoms are shivers, headache, joint and muscle pain and considerable weakness. The respiratory system is infected, which manifests itself in sneezing, nasal mucosa inflammation, sore throat, dry paroxysmal cough and also a feeling of general malaise.
How to treat colds and flu?
Professor Bolesław Samoliński, National Consultant for Public Health, reminds us that both colds and flu are caused by viruses, so using antibiotics in their treatment is unjustified as they only work on bacteriae. As Professor Samoliński explained, "During a cold it’s best to use OTC medications, which may not reduce the duration of the infection, but will reduce its symptoms – restore nasal patency, lower the fever and alleviate the cough." Symptom treatment is also applied in flu progressing without any complications, which does not require major interventions. Professor Samoliński recommends that during a cold or flu patients stay in bed. This is not only necessary to ensure the right body temperature but also to relieve the cardiovascular system. “The most complications are identified in persons who go to work with an infection," he emphasised.
The National Institute of Hygiene states that the most frequent influenza complications are related to the respiratory system (e.g. the influenza-related pneumonia and bronchitis, secondary bacterial pneumonia)and the nervous system (e.g. encephalitis, meningitis). The frequent complications also include otitis media(particularly in children), myocarditis and pericarditis, and also the aggravation of the pre-existing chronic diseases. Each year cases of death due to these complications are reported.
How to protect yourself against a cold or flu?
Professor Brydak stresses that the most effective and the cheapest way of preventing flu is immunisation. “Influenza is called the last uncontrolled plague of humanity. Can we counteract it? Yes, it’s all up to us," Professor Brydak argues. In turn, Professor Samoliński reminds us that it is worth following a few principles which may help prevent colds and flu – avoid direct contact with infected people, wash hands frequently, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and lips. It is also important to take care of your health – keep a healthy diet and exercise. The expert emphasises that colds are natural, and each person has a cold on average 200 times during their lifetime, while the total duration of the symptoms is about three years.