What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?

Child with the fluFlu is here! If you watch the news, you know we are in the midst of the worst flu season in years. Emergency rooms are overflowing, kids and adults are missing school and work, and it’s only early January.

Why is it so bad? Influenza, the virus that causes the flu, has the ability to mutate every year. This is why everyone needs yearly flu shots. This year’s strain is particularly nasty, and is making everyone really sick. The flu can be spread as far as 6 feet away by coughing, and can live on surfaces for up to 8 hours.

People die of the flu each year. The more cases of flu, the more deaths there are. Who is most at risk from the flu? Children younger than 2, the elderly and anyone with compromised immune systems or chronic diseases. How can you protect yourself from the flu? Get your flu shot or flu mist! This year’s vaccine is a good match for the current flu strain. The other way to protect yourself and your family is frequent hand washing. You can help stop the spread of flu by staying home from work or school when sick.

Here are the top 5 ways to tell the difference between a cold and the flu:

Influenza

  1. Kids are super sick and symptoms come on suddenly. The best description is that they suddenly feel like they were run over by a truck. They are in bed for days.
  2. High fevers from 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit that last for 4-5 days.
  3. Shaking chills, severe body aches and weakness.
  4. Bad sore throat, cough, congestion and headache.
  5. Dehydration caused by poor fluid intake.

Colds

  1. Kids are not that sick. They are crabby, but still play and act like themselves.
  2. Kids can run fevers for a few days, but generally not as long or as consistently high.
  3. Runny nose and cough are the main complaints.
  4. No muscle aches or body aches.
  5. Generally no problems with dehydration, although they may eat a little less.

What to do if you think your child has the flu

Viral antibiotics DO NOT help. Treatment includes:

  • Fever-reducing medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Lots of fluids with electrolytes, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade.
  • Rest.

There is an antiviral medicine available that can be given if started within the first 48 hours; however, it does have some side effects and you should talk to your doctor before starting it.

You should see your doctor if your child is younger than 1 and has flu symptoms, or if a child of any age is taking a turn for the worse. Call your doctor if you are not sure whether to bring them in. Visit the emergency room only if your child has breathing problems, severe dehydration or is sent by their doctor.

Kristin Bencik-Boudreau, DO, FAAP- Kristin Bencik-Boudreau, DO, FAAP, pediatrician, Bayshore Pediatrics

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin offers 20 primary care offices throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Bayshore Pediatrics in Glendale, Wis.

Learn more about Kristin Bencik-Boudreau, DO, FAAP.

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