Flu versus a cold … how can you tell?

If you wake up feeling fine, and a few hours later feel like a Mack truck just hit you, you probably have the flu.

Is it the flu?

“Here’s what you need to worry about,” said Dr. Richard Jay at North Big Horn Hospital. “If you run a temperature over 101 for more than 36 hours and you feel as though you have been beat up and been run over, you need to be tested, because the treatment needs to begin within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. So if you go to bed on Monday night and you feel terrible and you wake up on Tuesday morning and you feel more terrible with a temperature of 103, you probably ought a have an appointment by Wednesday morning.”

Early symptoms can be treated with the prescription drug Tamiflu, which Jay said can greatly reduce symptoms, the length of time an individual is sick and can oftentimes reduce complications caused by a prolonged illness. But the drug only works if taken in the very early stages of symptoms and doctors are generally not willing to prescribe the drug for people who are not yet sick, in an effort to avoid a shortage of the drug.

For those waiting more than four days to seek help, Jay said, depending on symptoms, the patient might receive what he referred to as a “cocktail of antibiotics and other drugs,” depending on how sick the individual becomes and their past medical history.

Jay said, “It’s never too late to get the shot,” but he cautioned that getting a preventative shot this late in the game, when you may already have been exposed or may already be sick, can make you feel even sicker. He noted that since the incubation period is three to five days, an individual might not realize they have the flu until symptoms begin to appear. For this reason, he said, doctors will sometimes prescribe Tamiflu simultaneously with a late shot that is requested after the virus has already begun to spread in the community.

The WDH website concurs, stating that “Some people do get mild flu-like symptoms for a short time after being vaccinated, but this is a sign that your body is responding to the vaccine and giving you protection. It is not the flu. Also, because there are many cold viruses circulating in the fall, it is possible that a person could be infected and become ill at the same time they receive the flu vaccine.”

by Patti Carpenter