Cold and Flu: Common Cold
Common cold, also known simply as a cold, is a viral infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract that primarily affects the nose. Signs and symptoms may begin less than two days following exposure. They include coughing, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, headache, and fever. People usually recover in seven to ten days. Some symptoms may last up to three weeks. In those with other health problems, pneumonia may occasionally develop. See more about “Cold and Flu”.
Well over 200 virus strains are implicated in the cause of the common cold; the rhinoviruses are the most common. They spread through the air during close contact with infected people and indirectly through contact with objects in the environment followed by transfer to the mouth or nose. Risk factors include going to daycare, not sleeping well, and psychological stress. Symptoms are mostly due to the body’s immune response to the infection rather than to tissue destruction by the viruses themselves. People with influenza often show similar symptoms as people with a cold, though symptoms are usually more severe in the former.
There is no vaccine for the common cold. The primary methods of prevention are hand washing; not touching the eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; and staying away from sick people. Some evidence supports the use of face masks. No cure for the common cold exists, but the symptoms can be treated. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may help with pain. Antibiotics should not be used. Evidence does not support a benefit from cough medicines.
Common Cold: Why?
The common cold is the most frequent infectious disease in humans. The average adult gets two to four colds a year, while the average child may get six to eight. They occur more commonly during the winter. These infections have been with humanity since ancient times.
The common cold is called “common” for a reason. This seasonal respiratory infection is a leading cause of doctor’s office visits and missed work or school days each year. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 22 million school days are lost each year in the United States due to the common cold.
While a cold generally resolves quickly, symptoms can last for up to two weeks. However, unlike the flu, symptoms are generally mild and in most cases do not lead to any serious health complications.
Rrhinovirus is most often the one that makes people sneeze and sniffle, and it’s highly contagious. Other frequent cold-causing pathogens include coronaviruses and respiratory syncytial viruses. Most cold-causing viruses thrive in environments with low humidity, which may be why colds are more common during the fall and winter months. However, you can catch a cold any time of year.
When someone who’s sick sneezes or coughs, they send virus-filled droplets flying through the air. You can get sick if you touch a surface (such as a countertop or doorknob) that has recently been handled by a cold-infected person, and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.
Cold and Flu: Flu
Influenza, commonly known as “the flu”, is an infectious disease caused by an influenza virus. Symptoms can be mild to severe. The most common symptoms include: a high fever, runny nose, sore throat, muscle pains, headache, coughing, and feeling tired. These symptoms typically begin two days after exposure to the virus and most last less than a week. The cough, however, may last for more than two weeks. In children, there may be nausea and vomiting, but these are not common in adults. Nausea and vomiting occur more commonly in the unrelated infection gastroenteritis, which is sometimes inaccurately referred to as “stomach flu” or “24-hour flu”. Complications of influenza may include viral pneumonia, secondary bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, and worsening of previous health problems such as asthma or heart failure.
Three types of influenza viruses affect people, called Type A, Type B, and Type C. Usually, the virus is spread through the air from coughs or sneezes. This is believed to occur mostly over relatively short distances. It can also be spread by touching surfaces contaminated by the virus and then touching the mouth or eyes. A person may be infectious to others both before and during the time they are sick. The infection may be confirmed by testing the throat, sputum, or nose for the virus. A number of rapid tests are available; however, people may still have the infection if the results are negative. A type of polymerase chain reaction that detects the virus’s RNA is more accurate. Cold and Flu.
Frequent hand washing reduces the risk of infection because the virus is inactivated by soap. Wearing a surgical mask is also useful. Yearly vaccinations against influenza are recommended by the World Health Organization for those at high risk. The vaccine is usually effective against three or four types of influenza. It is usually well tolerated. A vaccine made for one year may not be useful in the following year, since the virus evolves rapidly. Antiviral drugs such as the neuraminidase inhibitor oseltamivir, among others, have been used to treat influenza. Their benefits in those who are otherwise healthy do not appear to be greater than their risks. No benefit has been found in those with other health problems.
Influenza spreads around the world in a yearly outbreak, resulting in about three to five million cases of severe illness and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths. In the Northern and Southern parts of the world outbreaks occur mainly in winter while in areas around the equator outbreaks may occur at any time of the year. Death occurs mostly in the young, the old and those with other health problems. Larger outbreaks known as pandemics are less frequent. In the 20th century three influenza pandemics occurred: Spanish influenza in 1918, Asian influenza in 1958, and Hong Kong influenza in 1968, each resulting in more than a million deaths. The World Health Organization declared an outbreak of a new type of influenza A/H1N1 to be a pandemic in June 2009. Influenza may also affect other animals, including pigs, horses and birds.