Having a cold is a nuisance: your nose is running, your throat hurts and your ears ache from pressure. In other words: you feel sick and even a simple cold might feel like a serious disease. Influenza, on the other hand, is more serious, and for some people can be life threatening even in our era of hospitals and good hygiene.
In light of recent news about the current wave of influenza in Costa Rica it useful to know the difference between colds and more serious flu symptoms.
Normally, after 3 or 5 days, a common cold, which is caused by similar viruses to the flu, disappears on its own. If the symptoms don’t go away, you should consider visiting a doctor, because it might be a more serious strain of influenza that could develop into a more serious condition.
In Costa Rica dangerous strains of influenza still cause deaths each year, almost exclusively in high risk groups. Last year, the government reported 27 deaths.
Who is most at risk?
Most people who get the flu have mild symptoms and recover quickly. Other people are more likely to experience complications that can lead to hospital stays and more serious problems. Most of these individuals are already stressed by chronic conditions or other risk factors such as asthma or heart conditions that make their immune systems more vulnerable. The flu makes their chronic health problems worse. The list below contains the group of people who are considered to be at high risk for complications if they get sick with influenza.
- Children. Especially those under three.
- Pregnant women.
- People with asthma, chronic lung or heart disease, or kidney, liver or metabolic disorders.
- People with obesity (a body mass index of 40 or higher)
When to seek help
If you have fever of over 38 degrees Celsius, difficulty breathing, and a cough that causes a choking sensation, you should see a doctor right away.
Other symptoms you should pay attention to are severe headache, severe sore throat, loss of appetite, dry cough without phlegm, and limb pain.
If you belong to one at-risk groups above, don’t hesitate to go to the doctor immediately.
How can I prevent getting infected?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main mode of transmission of most respiratory infections is via droplets disseminated through sneezing, coughing, and talking. Another frequent way of transmission can be direct contact such as hand shaking or contact with contaminated body fluids excreted through the mouth or nose.
Basic hygiene is the most powerful weapon against spreading colds and flus:
- Regularly wash your hands with soap and water before eating, after going to the bathroom, and especially before touching your face.
- Never sneeze or cough right into your hands. You touch many things including your own face with your hands. Better use a tissue or the inside of your forearm.
- If you start to feel sick, avoid crowded and public places where many people come together.
- On a daily basis, eat healthy and get exercise. A healthy, balanced lifestyle will strengthen your body in the long-term. A strong immune system is always the best protection.