Influenza vs. the Common Cold: Which One Is It?

AUGUST 24, 2017
It’s that time again where pharmacies all across the country are receiving large shipments of the influenza vaccine. In fact, any individual can walk into a pharmacy and receive their influenza vaccine with no appointment necessary, making it very convenient and accessible.

Unfortunately there are some misconceptions about the flu that prevent people from getting vaccinated. The most common one that I tend to see is a patient saying that they got sick after receiving the flu vaccine; therefore the vaccine does not work. The thing is, you still may get sick after getting the flu because there are other things such as the common cold that might cross your path but one thing is for sure, you won’t get the flu. This column is just to provide you with some comparisons against the common cold and the flu so that you are able to know the difference, which will hopefully reinforce the fact that it is important to get the flu vaccine because it works!
 
Influenza

The flu is the most common vaccine-preventable illness in the United States. The virus typically spreads from person to person through the transmission of respiratory droplets. This means whenever someone coughs or sneezes, it can be spread to individuals within close proximity. The flu can also be spread by those individuals who cough and sneeze into their hand and then spread those germs by touching other surfaces, allowing the other individuals who come in with the surface to get infected.

Uncomplicated influenza usually resolves after 3-7 days in most cases but can persist for more than 2 weeks. According to CDC guidelines, everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated each year to keep them safe from the flu. Pregnant women are at high risk for severe diseases and complications so this patient population shoul be vaccinated. Other individuals with underlying health issues are also at an elevated risk of contracting the flu, which could then lead to complications. For this reason I strongly recommend anyone with comorbidities such as diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc. to go and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Flu Symptoms

·       High Fever
·       Infrequent Sore Throat
·       Occasional Sneezing if any
·       Clear nose
·       Severe Aches and Pains/Muscle Soreness
·       Constant Headaches
·       Several Weeks of Fatigue
·       Severe Cough
·       Extreme Exhaustion
 
Common Cold

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases the common cold tends to affect 1 billion people over the course of each year. The common cold can also be contracted from inhalation and touching contaminated surfaces. There is no vaccination or cure for the common cold. Symptoms usually begin 2-3 days after transmission and can last up to 2 weeks. The only thing individuals can do once they have contracted the cold is to get plenty of rest, drink a lot of fluids, and alleviate symptoms with over-the-counter products. Individuals can best prevent the common cold by practicing hand hygiene.
 
Cold Symptoms

·       Low or No Fever
·       Sore Throat
·       Sneezing
·       Stuffy/Runny nose
·       Slight Aches and Pains
·       Infrequent Headaches
·       Mild Fatigue
·       Mild Cough
 
 

If you liked this article and want to know more about the flu please check out my other piece titled: 4 Complementary and Alternative Medicines for the Flu. This article is especially helpful to those who did not get vaccinated, ended up contracting the flu, and favor natural products. 


 
 
References
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Vaccines and Immunizations and (Accessed 2017 Aug 24)

Immunization recommendations written by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) (Accessed 2017 Aug 24)

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Accessed 2017 Aug 24)


Shelby Leheny, Pharm D, B.S
Shelby Leheny received her Doctor of Pharmacy Degree from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) and her Bachelor's of Science degree at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a pharmacist at CVS.
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