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Colds & Flu

Colds and flu are caused by viruses that attack the respiratory tract. Colds are caused by a number of different viruses, but commonly rhinoviruses. Flu is caused by influenza viruses.

Cold and flu viruses attack the nose, nasal sinuses, throat and upper respiratory tract (trachea and bronchi) - producing symptoms of runny nose, sinus congestion, sneezing, sore throat, and cough. Colds occasionally cause headaches and mild fevers. The flu is often more severe than a cold. During a flu infection, the fever can be much higher. Muscle aches and extreme fatigue are also common. The classic symptoms, as described, begin 1-4 days after contact with the virus and usually last 5 - 7 days, but can linger. The difference between colds and flu, for most healthy people, aren't important. For the elderly, very young children, or otherwise susceptible people, the flu can be very serious. These people should always be seen by a doctor.

Children in school may have a dozen or more colds in one year because of contact with many other children everyday. As they grow older, their immune system matures and builds up antibodies to help fight infection; therefore, catching fewer colds. Adults average 2 - 3 colds per year. Smoking greatly increases the frequency of colds. The viruses causing colds and flu are spread from person to person. This includes airborne transmission (especially handshaking). People are considered infectious from 1-2 days before symptoms appear to 3-4 days after symptoms start.

Unfortunately, modem medicine has not yet developed a cure for the cold virus once they have invaded the body. Antibiotics only work against bacteria not colds or flu virus. New treatments for the Influenza virus are only effective if started in the first two days of infection.

Treatment for colds and flu is directed at prevention, and if that fails, treat the unpleasant symptoms. The best ways to prevent a cold are frequent hand washing, immunization and avoiding people who already have colds.

General treatment measures include rest (refusing to rest worsens symptoms and delays recovery) fluids - at least 2 quarts of clear liquids per day, which promotes drainage, humidifying dry air, and to avoid tobacco smoke.

Infants and very young children are best treated without cold medicines, since they may not work, and have unpredictable side-effects. Saline drops and suctioning with a bulb syringe help relieve stuffy nose.