When you start experiencing a fever and begin feeling sick in October, how do know if you might be the nation’s first case of the flu? What are the symptoms of flu? How do you differentiate it from other causes of fever?
There are many causes of fever, everything form colds and flu, to serious life threatening infections like meningitis, and uncommon causes like medications and chemotherapy. Over the next ten days in our “Countdown to the Flu” series, we will discuss one cause of fever each day and how it might present differently than the flu.
Let’s use iTriage (iPhone, Android, or at www.itriagehealth.com) to search for a list of “common” causes of fever:
4. Common cold
8. Otitis Media
12. Scarlet Fever
Common Cold vs. Flu
Because many of us experience common cold at least once a year, let’s start by thinking through the differences between common cold and flu. By looking through iTriage and reviewing the symptoms of common cold, we see that one might expect to experience cough, runny nose, fever, muscle aches, headache, and sore throat. Generally symptoms are located in the respiratory tract – everything from nose and throat on down to lungs. Onset is usually pretty rapid, fever is usually lower or less prominent, chills are uncommon, and symptoms start at the top of the respiratory tract. Common colds are caused by viruses.
Here is the official description on iTriage:
A cold is a contagious viral infection that principally involves the upper-respiratory passages, the nose, throat, sinuses, ears, eustachian tubes, trachea, larynx, and bronchial tubes. Common colds are generally not responsive to antibiotics. It is difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu based on symptoms alone. Special tests must be done within the first few days of illness to tell if you have the flu. Colds are usually milder than the flu: fevers are lower and body aches are mild versus moderate to severe. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.
With influenza, high fever, chills and fatigue are very common. While there is usually a cough, it is often a dry hacking cough, and does not usually get productive like the common cold unless you begin to get a secondary infection. Onset is rapid and symptoms can be severe.
Here is the description from iTriage:
Influenza is a common viral respiratory infection, and is contagious with an incubation period of 24 to 48 hours after exposure. There are three main types of influenza (A, B, C). Only type A can change its structure from year to year giving it the ability to produce widespread outbreaks. Immunity only lasts for one year requiring yearly immunization shots. The disease is usually self limited (resolves without treatment), but can be fatal in the very young, very old, or if there is a coexisting depression of the immune system. It is difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu based on symptoms alone. Special tests must be done within the first few days of illness to tell if you have the flu. In general the flu is worse than the common cold and symptoms such as fever (usually over 101F) and body aches are more severe with the flu.
If you feel you need to tell these conditions apart, the best way is to get a flu test at a retail clinic, urgent care, emergency room, or at your primary physician’s office. Use iTriage on your phone to locate and call any facility in your vicinity.
Tomorrow – we will write about the differences between getting the flu and pharyngitis.