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Morning Rounds: Cold vs. flu symptoms

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NORFOLK, Va. - The cold and flu season is ramping up across the country.  How can you tell the difference between a really bad cold and the flu?  News 3 medical expert Dr. Ryan Light explained when you need to see the doctor, and what you can do to prevent getting the cold and flu.

How can we tell the difference between the flu and bad cold?

"It is difficult to tell the difference between a bad cold and the flu," said Dr. Light.  "They share many common symptoms.  In general, the flu symptoms are more intense than the common cold. A rapid flu test is the only way to differentiate a bad cold from the flu."

When should you go the doctor?

"If you are experiencing flu-type symptoms, see your healthcare provider as early as possible." said Dr. Light.  "This will allow for testing to confirm the flu and start treatment."

Dr. Light said the treatment for the flu, anti-viral medications, work best when started within the first 48 hours.  If you have a health issue such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, Diabetes, a comprised immune system,  are over the age 65 or younger than 5, you are at higher risk of complications from the flu.

Is it worth getting the flu shot even though it's not as effective?

"Yes, it is always the best medicine to get the flu shot annually," said Dr. Light, referring to the 30 percent efficacy of this year's vaccine.  "The vaccine, even though it has limited effectiveness against this year's H3N2, will still prevent hospitalization and death caused by the viruses."

What can we do to prevent getting it?

"Good health habits, like covering your nose and mouth when you cough, and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs," he explained.

Dr. Light also shared these bullet points to avoid getting the flu:

  • Avoid close contact.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Practice good health habits such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Do vitamin C supplements really work?

"Yes, daily vitamin C does help prevent the flu or common cold," explained Dr. Light.  "Vitamin C at 1000 mg taken three times daily before or after the appearance of cold or flu symptoms will help with relieving and preventing symptoms.  If you have not taken the vitamin C daily you can still get relief at the first signs of a cold or flu by taking vitamin C at 1000mg hourly for the first six hours, then three times daily."