Cold and Flu

What is the Common Cold?
The common cold is a viral, contagious illness that affects the upper respiratory tract.  It begins when a cold virus attaches to the lining of your nose or throat.  A “cold,” as it is often abbreviated, can stem from a number of viruses and despite most beliefs, does not occur from getting wet.  Although rarely fatal or severe, the common cold is the driving force behind millions of doctor’s visits, and missed days from school and work in the United States each year.

Susceptibility
Some research shows that stress and allergies that affect your nose and mouth can contribute to becoming infected by a cold virus.

Cause
The cold is usually caused by rhinovirus, coronavirus and the respiratory syncytial virus.  A cold can be spread via inhalation of emissions of viruses into the air or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose or mouth.

The common cold most often occurs during the fall and winter due to cooler temperatures which lead to more time spent indoors and sharing more space with other people.  Children have colds more frequently than other people due to close contact and shared space in school with many other children.

Symptoms
Symptoms of the cold include itchy and/or sore throat, sneezing, coughing, irritated eyes, runny nose and congestion.

Treatment & Prevention
The common cold cannot be cured with antibiotics because it is a virus, rather than a bacterial infection.  While symptoms may be temporarily alleviated with cold medicine, painkillers and home remedies, most colds will last 7 to 10 days.

Influenza
Often referred to as the “flu,” influenza’s affect on the body often resembles the common cold with additional symptoms and longer duration.  The flu is a viral, contagious illness that affects the upper and lower respiratory system.  Depending on its severity, the flu can be very harmful and lead to worse conditions, such as pneumonia.

Susceptibility
People who are most susceptible to the flu include those with weaker immune systems, especially infants, the elderly, and people suffering from HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses.

Cause
The flu can begin from a number of viruses, which have been scientifically divided into three categories, Types A, B and C. Each of the three types has the ability to mutate and create new strains, thus explaining various flu pandemics that can, have and will occur, such as the H1N1 Swine Flu.  Like the common cold, the flu is contagious and can be obtained through inhalation and touching contaminated surfaces and then touching the mouth or nose.

Symptoms
In addition to those with the common cold, symptoms associated with the flu include, increased fatigue, fever, headache, body ache, chills and congestion.

Treatment
Influenza is a virus, and thus cannot be cured by antibiotics; however, it is encouraged to get the seasonal flu vaccinations, which are capable of preventing specific strains of viruses.  There are also flu antiviral medications that help ease symptoms.

“Stomach flu”
Gastroenteritis, commonly known as the stomach flu, refers to problems with the gastrointestinal tract or the stomach and intestines.  Due to shared symptoms with the flu, such as fever, congestion, body aches and fatigue, people mistakenly associate the two illnesses. In fact, influenza is caused by a virus, while the “stomach flu” can arise from a virus or a bacterial infection. Like the flu and common cold, the gastroenteritis is very contagious.

Susceptibility
People who are at a higher risk of getting gastroenteritis include pregnant woman, infants, people with weaker immune systems and the elderly.

Cause
Gastroenteritis is often caused by improperly prepared foods that are contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. The sickness can also be caused different strains of viruses, parasites or conditions such as lactose intolerance.

Symptoms
Severe stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea are all symptoms of the “stomach flu.”  Fever, headache and swollen lymph glands may also be present depending on the origin of the illness.  The stomach flu can also lead to dehydration.

Treatment
It is important to take in many fluids to avoid dehydration when suffering from gastroenteritis. Antibiotics may treat the ailment if it was caused by a virus, which are responsible for 30 to 40% of gastroenteritis cases in children.

Swine flu & Bird flu
The swine flu affects the respiratory system and was originally only present in pigs.  A newly produced strain of the virus, however, led to the worldwide spread of H1N1.  The virus cannot be obtained from eating pork or products that contain pork and has symptoms similar to influenza.  There are incidences where people develop further symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea and in worse conditions pneumonia or respiratory failure.

The bird flu, or avian influenza is also a widely spread infectious virus, which originated in birds. The swine flu can be treated by some antiviral drugs, while the bird flu is being considered as the next pandemic flu to vast presence in poultry and wild birds in Asia and Eastern Europe.

For more information about the immune system and immune health, click here.