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May 17 2022 11:33 PM ˚
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What to know about common cold and flu this winter

Viral infections are common in winter, and transmission can happen via water droplets, which form when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs, but also through contact, for example, when handling contaminated objects and then touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth. (Photo: Freepik)
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The start of winter is the most common time for viral infections, especially for the flu. Now, with corona pandemic still far from over, distinguishing one such infection from another may be quite difficult. One other prevalent viral infection is the common cold; it is similar to the flu and corona virus, but much less severe in terms of harm to the body.اضافة اعلان

Similar to the flu, the common cold may be caused by many types of viruses, including the rhinovirus, parainfluenza and seasonal coronaviruses. Seasonal coronaviruses are different from that causing SARS-CoV-2 (the cause of the current COVID-19 pandemic). 

The most common form of cold is caused by the rhinovirus. Transmission may happen via water droplets, formed when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs, but also through contact, for example, when handling contaminated objects and then touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth. 

A cold is a relatively harmless viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract, particularly the nose and throat. It does not typically do serious harm and is over in about seven to ten days. If symptoms do not improve or become worse, however, one should see the doctor.

The common cold affects people differently, but symptoms usually manifest within 1-3 days after infection. Signs and symptoms of a common cold include runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, congestion, slight body aches, mild headaches, sneezing and low-grade fever (35.7°C–38.3°C). With a cold it is common to have nasal discharge. At first, the discharge may be clear, but with time it becomes thicker and changes color to yellow or green. This is normal with this type of infection and is not indicative of a bacterial infection.

Who is at greater risk

Age is one of the biggest risk factors associated with getting a cold. Infants and young children are also at great risk, especially in a communal setting such as daycare. In this age demographic, a cold may manifest itself as ear pain. Also at greater risk of catching a cold or experiencing more severe symptoms are smokers, even passive smokers. Individuals with weakened immune system or greater exposure to the public are also at higher risk.

Common cold vs flu

Common cold and flu share many similarities, but a cold is generally milder and not typically associated with serious complications. The biggest difference between the flu and a cold is the prevalence of certain symptoms and their onset. A cold is typically gradual, taking 1-3 days after infection, whereas the onset of the flu is typically abrupt. Additionally, fever (39.4°C), aches, chills, fatigue, weakness and headaches are more prevalent in case of flu, whereas sneezing, stuffy nose and sore throat are more prevalent in cases of common cold. Chest discomfort and cough are typically mild to moderate with cold but still common with flu.

Complications from a cold

Complications resulting from a cold are generally less severe and less prevalent compared to those from a flu. Infants and younger children, as well as those who smoke or have an underlying respiratory condition, are at greater risk of developing complications. 

In the younger age demographic, it is possible to develop a viral infection in the ear, known as otitis media. Young children and infants may have difficulty conveying their source of discomfort or pain, but a common sign is when they frequently pull at the earlobe. 

A cold may also cause acute sinusitis, which is inflammation and swelling of the sinuses as a result of prolonged infection. For those with asthma, a cold can trigger or exacerbate wheezing.

Prevention and treatment

As is the case of flu, the common cold is ever mutating, making immunization against infection difficult. 

Due to the fact that the manifestation of the disease is relatively mild, there is no annual cold vaccine, unlike for flu. In order to protect yourself from infection, protocol should be similar to that of the flu or even corona. Practice good hand hygiene by washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and using alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Cough and sneeze in a tissue or the crook of your elbow. Finally, regularly disinfect commonly used items and avoid large crowds or gatherings.

When it comes to viral infections, there is not much by way of treatment. The only effective treatment addresses symptoms, but most importantly, you need rest to allow your body to fight the infection. There are many over-the-counter remedies to treat a cold and pharmacists are usually very helpful, answering questions or concerns regarding the medication to use.