By Hassan Riaz, Pharmacist, Horne Street Pharmacy
So what is the difference between the common cold and the flu?
It’s not easy to determine what a cold or flu is, but here is a table summarising some of the key differences between the two. A cold is a milder respiratory illness compared to the flu and can make you feel unwell for a few days. Flu symptoms can make you feel quite poorly for a few days to weeks.
|Symptoms of a cold||Symptoms of the flu|
|A raised temperature||A sudden fever (above 38°C or 100.4°F)|
|Symptoms usually develop over a day or two||Symptoms develop very quickly|
|Symptoms mainly affect nose and throat||Headache, aching muscles and chills|
|General feeling of infirmity, but able to carry on with normal jobs||Debilitating – makes you unwell enough to not carry on as normal|
|Coughing and sneezing, pressure sometimes in ears and face||Can also present with loss of appetite, diarrhoea, and sickness|
So is flu something I should take seriously?
Flu can lead to pneumonia and even prove to be fatal. The World Health Organisation estimates that flu kills between 250,000-500,000 people around the world each year1. In the UK it is estimated that an average of 600 people a year die from complications of flu2. The 1918 flu epidemic is estimated to have affected half of the world’s population and killed between 40-50 million people worldwide. That’s more deaths than WW1. So yes the flu is serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Preventing colds and flu
Both colds and flu are spread by viruses, but completely different ones. There are hundreds of viruses that can cause colds, but only 4 types of seasonal influenza viruses, types A, B, C and D. Influenza A and B viruses circulate and cause seasonal epidemics of the disease. The viruses are contained in water and are spread from the nose and mouth of an infected person who sneezes or coughs. To minimise the risk of contracting a cold or flu, always remember to wash your hands frequently, especially before and after eating. It’s always recommended to cough into a tissue and to wipe down surfaces which may be more prone to getting contaminated.
There are too many cold viruses for there to exist a vaccine which prevents the common cold, and in most instances, it goes away on its own. If the common cold prolongs itself, it can be treated symptomatically over the pharmacy counter with support from our pharmacy teams. There does, however, exist a flu vaccine. But because the strains change annually for the flu, new vaccines are to be administered each year in line with the most prevalent strains that year. Your body responds to the vaccine by building antibodies that will fight off the flu infection. Remember: This vaccine cannot give you the flu, although a very small number of patients may experience symptoms similar to the common cold.
Who should get vaccinated?
We offer the free NHS flu jab, which is available in our Hub Pharmacies, to eligible patient groups. The eligible patient groups entitled to a free vaccine for the 2018/2019 season include the following3:
- Those aged 65 years and over
- People aged between 18 and 65 with one or more of the following medical conditions: chronic (long-term) respiratory disease, such as severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis; chronic heart disease, such as heart failure; diabetes; immunosuppression, a weakened immune system due to disease and morbid obesity
- pregnant women aged 18 or over
- people aged 18 or over living in long-stay residential care homes or other long-stay care facilities
- social care workers and hospice workers
- carers aged 18 or over or
- household contacts of immunocompromised individuals who are aged 18 or over.
Is the flu vaccine still available?
Seasonal influenza occurs in annual epidemics in England and Wales. The annual flu season runs between October and March, usually peaking around late December/early January4. It is important for everyone who is eligible for the free flu vaccine to take up the offer. Those patients who don’t fall into one of the above patient groups may still be entitled to a free flu vaccine from one of our trained Pharmacists at our pharmacies and if not, the vaccine is also available privately; ask in one of our branches for more information.
Stay safe and protected from flu this winter.