Coughing and sneezing is never a good sign -- add on a sore throat and you are officially sick. This year’s flu season is already under way, but many people confuse the symptoms of the flu with the common cold.
“They think it’s flu season so they think they’re coming down with the flu,” said Wendy Walters with Anchorage's Department of Health and Human Services. “It’s really sort of a sudden onset of symptoms that usually make it more indicative of the flu.”
Walters said that although some symptoms of both the flu -- properly known as influenza -- and a cold may be similar, the illnesses are different.
"What I usually tell people is influenza is a sudden onset of a fever, sometimes quite high," Walters said. "Chills, body aches: it really basically kicks you fairly hard, and you end up pretty much in bed for several days."
Influenza and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they're caused by different viruses. Both the flu and cold can give you a runny nose, a cough, general respiratory congestion and a sore throat -- but because both have similar flu-like symptoms, it can sometimes be difficult for people to diagnose themselves based on symptoms alone.
So far, Alaska has about 250 lab-confirmed cases of influenza this year, but the flu season has just begun. Typically, doctors report their highest numbers of cases after the new year. Since many people who have influenza symptoms often don’t get tested by a doctor, the state worries this may be just the tip of the iceberg in an already cold winter.
“We do know that there are a lot of people out there that do have influenza, who are missing school and work, we don’t necessarily get most of those numbers,” said epidemiologist Brian Yablon, with the state Department of Health and Social Services.
One key to avoiding the flu is getting vaccinated, although Yablon warns that getting vaccinated doesn't mean the flu is 100 percent preventable.
Doctors add that the best way to avoid getting the flu or a cold is to frequently wash your hands and avoid touching your face. If you’re one of the unlucky ones, stay home and call in sick to spare your friends and co-workers.
Contact Caslon Hatch