Lurking around the corner, as eager as department store holiday decorations but not nearly as innocent, stand this season’s cold and flu viruses.
While cold and flu symptoms can hit as hard as a group of shoppers moving toward a Black Friday flat screen t.v. sale, local health officials say knowing the difference between the two illnesses and the most effective treatments can help ensure a healthier winter season.
“It really depends on the patient and their underlying health conditions,” said Dr. Jack Shepherd, director of Novant Health’s Charlotte-area urgent and express care centers.
Patients over the age of 65 or under 2-years-old, or who may be suffering from chronic health conditions such as acute asthma or congestive heart failure, should seek medical attention for symptoms that may be indicative of the flu, he said.
Flu symptoms can closely mirror a seasonal cold, which includes an upper respiratory infection with coughing, sore throat, sneezing, sore and runny nose and mild body aches.
Because the cold is a virus, antibiotics will not help, according to an article released by Novant at Novanthealth.org.
The best remedy includes rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and treating symptoms with over-the-counter medicines. Antibiotics will only be effective if the illness develops into a longer-lasting bacterial infection, the article states.
The flu, which is also a respiratory virus, manifests with many of the same symptoms as the cold but is usually much more intense, Shepherd said.
“I think the main thing is the severity of symptoms,” he said. These include high fever, more intense body aches, extreme fatigue and headaches.
Individuals experiencing these symptoms should consider the intensity of their symptoms when considering whether they should seek treatment, Shepherd said, but also understand that treatment may not offer immediate relief.
“It may be helpful to know if it’s the flu, but there’s really not much difference in how it would be approached,” he said. “There are treatments for influenza, but they’re not that great. It’s not like you get strep throat and you get antibiotics and you’re better in a day or so.”
For most patients, excluding those with chronic health problems whose conditions may be exacerbated by the flu, staying home to decrease exposure and increase rest is often the best approach.
To decrease the chances of contracting a cold or the flu, Shepherd and health professionals recommend following the usual preventative steps: wash hands often, frequently sanitize high-traffic areas such as faucets and door handles, and maintain a healthy diet with plenty of exercise and rest.
Most effective, Shepherd reminds patients, is the flu vaccine, which the Centers for Disease Control recommends receiving as an injection and not as a nasal spray.
According to the CDC, the mist was only 3 percent effective during the 2015-16 season, while the injection was 63 percent effective.
While many may argue against the efficacy of the vaccines, Shepherd said consistent statistics speak to how well the shot protects against contracting the virus.
“The best thing we’ve got going is the vaccine,” he said.
Added to that, Shepherd said, is getting plenty of rest, eating well and exercising, especially as the busy holiday season rolls into gear.
Lastly, those who are exhibiting flu symptoms are encouraged to stay home, which will not only accelerate their own recovery but also decrease the opportunities for infecting fellow classmates and co-workers.
For more information about cold and flu symptoms and treatment, visit www.noflu.org. Mint Hill-area residents who need medical treatment, especially outside normal business hours, can also visit Novant Health Express Care at 6816 Matthews-Mint Hill Road or call 704-316-3601.
The clinic is open Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.