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The Common Cold and Flu – can you spot the difference?

The NHS has produced an online guide to help people to understand the difference between the common cold and flu this winter.   With winter approaching the cases of both will be on the increase.  For normally health adults they are both self-limiting illnesses, and anyone who catches them will begin to feel better within a few days without the need for medical help; neither are treatable with antibiotics; and they are spread by different viruses.

The main difference between the two is that the on-set of flu usually starts with a sudden fever of 38-40°C, muscle aches and pains and other symptoms can include sweating, nausea, feeling exhausted and needing to lie down.

There are around 200 viruses that cause colds and three that cause flu. Flu symptoms appear one to three days after infection and most people recover within a week, although you may feel tired for longer.

If you are a normally healthy adult or child, the best advice if you catch a cold or the flu is to stay at home and get plenty of rest - this will also minimise the chance of you spreading the virus to others.  Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to control aches and pains and temperature and drink plenty of fluids to stop getting dehydrated.

The NHS is entering its busiest time of the year, as a fall in temperatures below 12 degrees Celsius can increase the risk of respiratory problems, heart-attacks and strokes amongst vulnerable people for example those with lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, cancer and older people. 

It is estimated that 5.2 million people a year go to their GP with blocked noses.  The advice from NHS teams is to self-care, talk to your local pharmacist for advice or look on-line if you think you could have a cold or the flu.  This advice forms part of the nationwide Choose well campaign which aims to ensure that NHS teams are free to respond to life-threatening and emergency situations.

More information about the common cold and flu can be found at http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/coldsandflu/  You can also find a mobile phone friendly web-link to a symptom checker and service finder at http://bit.ly/nhsnwQR