THE COMMON COLD AND FLU (INFLUENZA)
What are they?
The common cold and 'flu (influenza) are very common infections. They often affect the nose, throat, ears.
What are the causes?
Viruses cause colds and 'flu. The infections are very contagious. They can be passed on by tiny droplets and hand contact. There are hundreds of different types of virus which can cause a cold, which explains why children have often got colds. The influenza virus causes 'flu. There are three major types: A (often the cause of epidemics of 'flu) B and C. The 'flu virus is constantly changing its structure, so new strains appear each year. People have no immunity to them, which means that you can catch 'flu repeatedly.
Who do they affect?
Colds appear most often during the colder winter months. This is not only because of cold weather but because central heating dries out the normally moist nasal mucosa. This is an important defence against attacking viruses. However, you can catch a cold at any time of the year. 'Flu rarely occurs outside November to February. Some children are at particularly high risk from the complications of 'flu, especially those who have got other lung or heart problems.
What symptoms are there?
If you catch a cold, you have got some of the following symptoms: a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat, a cough, a mild fever and tiredness. 'Flu is generally more severe with a high fever (usually 39°C or above), a headache, intense muscle pains, exhaustion, loss of appetite, a cough, and sometimes a blocked nose and sore throat. It can last a week or more, and sometimes become more complicated for example pneumonia.
How can you diagnose & treat them?
Most colds do not last much time and need no specific treatment. You can use painkillers and simple measures such as decongestant rubs or vaporisers. Antibiotics are of no benefit. Zinc and vitamin C supplements help treat a cold faster. Children with the 'flu can have similar treatments, with lots of rest, sponging to bring down fever and plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Specific antiviral treatments for the 'flu are now available but generally only used in those at high risk, such as old people or have got asthma.