Flu is now widespread in most of the United States and is likely to continue to be a concern. However, the flu might not be the only illness going around this flu season. There are several other respiratory viruses that may be circulating that can cause symptoms similar to the flu. So how do you know what is making you sick? Huron County Public Health (HCPH) highlighted some differences between the flu and other illnesses that are common this time of year.
The flu and the common cold (rhinovirus) are both respiratory illnesses that are often mistaken for each other. Both are caused by viruses and have similar symptoms, such as being tired, sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat. However, a cold is usually less severe than the flu. Some ways that you may be able to tell the difference between the two include the symptoms seen and their degrees of severity.
With the flu, the infected person will usually have an abrupt onset of symptoms, including a fever, aches and noticeable fatigue and weakness. A cold, by comparison, will set in gradually, rarely s accompanied by a fever, may only have slight aches and only sometimes cause the individual to be overly tired.
Another respiratory illness that may be circulating is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV, like the flu and the common cold, is caused by a respiratory virus and presents with cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, however the illness can be serious for infants and older adults.
If you do get sick, in most cases you should stay home, and avoid contact with other people to help prevent spreading illness. If you are at high risk for flu-related complications (young children, people 65 and older, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions), if you are very sick, or if you are worried about your illness, contact your health care provider. If your doctor determines you do have the flu, they may prescribe antivirals, which can make you better faster and may prevent serious complications.
With illnesses making their way through our communities, HCPH recommends that community members take precautions to keep themselves healthy. People can reduce their risk of getting sick by practicing healthy habits. These habits include:
• Covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing — cough or sneeze into your elbow
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces including:
— Home: cellphones, kitchen sink, toilet, garbage can, refrigerator, bathroom doorknob
— Work: phone receiver, desktop, keyboard, elevator button, toilet seat
— Outdoor/public surfaces: handrails, shopping cart handles, picnic tables
• Stay home when you are sick — as long as you’re coughing and sneezing you could be spreading germs that cause the flu
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick
Hand washing is another very important habit that people can do to avoid getting sick. When washing your hands make sure to lather them with soap and clean water, and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds before rinsing. To avoid spreading germs, wash your hands before, during and after preparing or eating food; before and after caring for someone who is sick; after using the toilet, changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
For more information on flu activity and healthy habits to avoid illness visit www.huroncohealth.com.