BY LISA WARREN
It's definitely the time of the year for colds and flu - and what a time it has been so far this year!
Doctors offices and hospitals in this region as well as nationwide have been busy with the recent surge of influenza and other flu-like illnesses.
Even this writer has been experiencing her fair share of coughs and sniffles in recent days thanks to a monster of a cold!
But how do you know if your runny nose, aches and general "yuckiness" is caused by a common cold or a more serious flu bug?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone.
Though both illnesses may cause a fever, a non-existent or low-grade fever typically signifies a cold, whereas a high-grade fever of 102 to 104 degrees F probably means you have the flu.
In general, the flu is worse and symptoms are more intense.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
Here's what to consider when deciding if it's a cold or the flu:
* COLDS - Usual symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. Coughs from colds are hacking and productive. It's unusual to have fever, chills, headaches and body aches, and if they do occur, they are mild.
* FLU - Fever is usually present, along with chills, headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and extreme tiredness. Symptoms can come on rapidly, within three to six hours. Coughs from flu are dry and unproductive, and sore throats are less common.
So what should we do once that cold or flu bug strikes to help us quickly brave the worst of the congestion, fever and other ills that often accompany such ills?
People with colds or mild cases of the flu should get plenty of rest and fluids.
Most over-the-counter cold remedies will help relieve some symptoms of both cold and flu.
Those with severe symptoms, such as a high fever or difficulty breathing, should see a doctor and may be prescribed antiviral drugs or other medications. Children should not be given aspirin without a doctor's approval.
ANTIVIRAL DRUGS FOR FLU
There are prescription medications called "antiviral drugs" that can be used to treat influenza illness and help to possibly shorten the illness by one or two days. (Antiviral medications are not used to treat cold viruses.)
Antiviral drugs are not sold over-the-counter. You can only get them if you have a prescription from your doctor or health care provider. In order to be most effective, antiviral drugs should be started within two days of getting sick.
Whether you have a cold or the flu, health experts says it's important to cover your mouth while coughing or sneezing and wash your hands to help prevent the spread of either illness.
SICK? STAY HOME
If you are sick - especially with a fever - you should stay home, the CDC advises.
The CDC recommends that you "stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other things you have to do and no one else can do for you. "Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.
"Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making them sick, the CDC adds. "If you must leave home, for example to get medical care, wear a facemask if you have one, or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue."
While most persons will recover well from the flu - persons who are considered at high risk of flu complications are advised by the CDC to see their doctor if they become sick with flu-like symptoms. Such persons include those with a chronic illness, pregnant women, children younger than two years old, and persons over age 65.
In order to prevent getting either a cold or flu, the CDC advises everyone - from the smallest of children to the oldest of adults to remember to wash their hands frequently with warm water and soap. This is especially advised after you've been out in public or around sick people.
Also, don't share cups or utensils.
Plus, get a flu vaccination -- officials say it's not too late, even in places where the flu is raging.