CSU – Golden Plains Extension: Staying healthy during Cold, Flu, and Pneumonia season
HOLYOKE, CO – APRIL 6, 2020 – With the recent outbreaks in different respiratory diseases, it is good to know the differences between a cold, flu, and pneumonia and when to stay home or seek medical care. The common cold and flu are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs’ air sacs (alveoli) which causes inflammation and may cause the sacs to fill will fluid or pus.
Cold symptoms are usually milder and last for about a week. A sore throat is the first symptom followed by a runny nose, congestion and a cough. It is possible for adults to experience a slight fever, but this symptom is more common in children. Nasal secretions start out watery and become thicker and darker. If cold symptoms last longer than a week, and are not improving, check with you doctor to ensure that the symptoms are not from an allergy or sinus infection.
Flu symptoms are similar to cold symptoms, but more severe. Flu symptoms come on quickly and may include sore throat, congestion, fever, headache, muscle aches, soreness, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you are experiencing a persistent fever or cough or painful swallowing, call or visit with your doctor. Typically flu symptoms slowly improve within 2-5 days, but it’s not uncommon to feel sluggish for a week or more.
Pneumonia can become a problem for those with flu. Symptoms can range from mild to so severe that hospitalization is required. The type of germ that caused the infection, your age, and your overall health are factors that determine how your body responds to pneumonia. Common symptoms include fever, chills, greenish, yellow or bloody mucus producing cough, shortness of breath, shallow breathing, sharp stabbing chest pain, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Symptoms may start out like flu, but within a couple days they become worse. Call your doctor immediately if you think you have symptoms of pneumonia.
When to stay home:
You are most contagious during the first 1-4 days of experiencing cold symptoms. It is best to stay home and rest during this time.
The flu virus is typically highly contagious for a week, starting the day before symptoms appear. The virus can live on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours. If possible, it’s best to stay home until your symptoms fade or you have been approved by a healthcare provider.
Depending on what caused the pneumonia, typically pneumonia itself is not contagious, it’s the cold, flu, or other respiratory virus that is contagious. Meaning the first week of symptoms are when you are most contagious and should stay home. If you think you have pneumonia, it’s best to stay home and contact your doctor. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan and advise you on how long you should stay home.
If you come in contact with high risk populations, like young children, the elderly, or others with weak immune systems, you should stay home whenever you begin to feel sick. Those in high risk populations are more likely to develop diseases, like pneumonia, and their immune systems can’t effectively fight off the bacteria or virus.
Since cold and flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics do not work to treat them. Antiviral medications can be taken to manage symptoms and possibly reduce the number of days you feel unwell. Antiviral medications can also prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. Staying home and resting will also help speed up your recovery.
Pneumonia can be caused by either bacteria or a virus. Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan depending on the type of infection. It is extremely important to follow the plan carefully until you are fully recovered. If it is caused by bacteria, your doctor will prescribe you an antibiotic. Make sure to take all the antibiotics as prescribe, even though you probably will feel better within a few days. If you stop, the infection may come back and could be resistant to treatment in the future. If pneumonia is caused by a virus, an antiviral may be prescribed, but typically symptom management and rest is enough.
Viral infections like cold, flu, and pneumonia are spread through mucous membranes like the nose, mouth, and eyes. Touching a contaminated surface and then touching your face is the most common way the germs spread. Washing your hands often and for at least 20 seconds helps remove the germs from your skin. It’s also never too late to receive a flu shot. The flu vaccine develops the antibodies that provide protection against the flu virus 2 weeks after you receive the vaccine.
One of the best ways to prevent pneumonia is to prevent the flu. Receiving a flu vaccine, covering your sneeze and cough, and washing your hands often are important steps to prevention. For those with an increased risk of developing pneumonia, like children younger under 5 and adults 65 and older, there is a pneumococcal vaccine. Other bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia include, pertussis (whooping cough), chicken pox and measles. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out which vaccines are right for you.
American Lung Association: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/coldflu.htm
Written and submitted to The BARN by:
Deeona Johnston, RDN, FCS Extension Agent