Cold vs. Flu: What’s The Difference?


This episode of DNews is brought to you by
HARRY’S. So, it’s cold and flu season. That sucks.
But whenever I feel crappy, I can’t tell if I’ve got the cold, or the flu — does it matter?
What’s the difference?! When I get a cough, or a headache or whatever
for a few days, I always assume it will go away, or that I just have a cold… but sometimes…
it’s the FLU! Even though the medicine says its for both the cold and the flu, they’re
entirely different viruses. The common cold is caused by over 200 different viruses! Coronaviruses,
rhinoviruses, metapneumoviruses, enteroviruses and parainfluenza viruses all make the short
list; but they really are all different. This is why we can’t “cure” the common cold. The
flu, on the other hand, is caused by influenza viruses. These respiratory viruses invade
the body and set up shop and cause very similar symptoms, because the human body only has
so many ways to fight. When your body is invaded by a virus, chances
are you’ll get the same symptoms every time, dry or sore throat, coughing and sneezing,
mild fever, congestion and maybe a headache. Pretty standard stuff. If it’s REALLY bad,
you’ll get aches and pains and exhaustion too. This happens because your body is spending
resources fighting off the viral infection. In general, flu is worse than the common cold,
the fever is higher, the aches and level of exhaustion are more pronounced, and the cough
can be more intense. While there’s almost no way to tell the difference between the
two infections… colds tend to produce a fever less than 101 (38C), affects the throat
and cause a runny nose. The flu, affects the lungs and the joints — so you’re likely to
feel more achy than leaky. Telling the difference is one thing, but once
you’re infected you only have a couple days to get treatment. After the first 48 hours,
the infection has usually stopped multiplying and is wreaking havoc on the body instead.
Regardless, once symptoms start for viral infections, there’s no simple cure. Antibiotics
WILL NOT HELP, because they fight BACTERIA not VIRUSES. Taking an antibacterial drug
during a viral infection is pointless. In fact, a lot of the remedies for colds and
the flu aren’t really based on… well science. Many people take vitamin C like it’s going
out of style, but a study from the University of Alberta looked at results and found there’s
really no evidence that it helps. Results suggest it MIGHT help with marathon runners
who have compromised immune systems due to exhaustion, but even then it’s a minor help.
I like to take zinc when I’m starting to feel ill, and science DOES support that. Zinc is
used by human immune cells as a catalyst, so when you boost the amount of zinc your
immune cells can protect the body a bit better, but too much can damage it — so don’t overmedicate. In the end, a cold will persist for 10 days,
while some flu symptoms will persist for three weeks; long after the influenza virus has
been eradicated. If you REALLY want to avoid getting sick, get a flu vaccination. Only
30 percent of surveyed adults get vaccinated year over year. Flu vaccines are made every
year by specialists who use massive datasets to predict which influenza viruses will dominate
this season — see, there’s more than one mutation, and they vie for power and bodies
to infect. The 2014 flu vaccine will protect against Influenza A H1N1 and H3N2, as well
as a couple influenza B viruses. You might recognize H1N1, we’re still seeing that left
over from 2009’s unexpected flu epidemic! Crazy right? So yes, there IS a difference between colds
and flu, but if you catch one of the over 200 viruses that cause these crappy feelings
the best way to handle it is to drink fluids and help keep yourself hydrated and rest.
If you minimize nutritional strain on your immune system by enjoying warm chicken soup
and let your immune system do it’s work, you’ll be fine. Empathy can also help, studies have
shown people who have families or even an empathetic doctor recover faster than those
who don’t so help out a friend if they’re sick, but don’t catch it yourself. If you
insist on medication, decongestants and antihistamines will treat the symptoms of both cold and flu,
but again — don’t take antibacterial meds unless you know it’s a bacterial infection
— that’s something a doctor can tell you. And speaking of stuff you keep in the medicine
cabinet, if you’re looking for a good razor to shave with try Harry’s! Harry’s was started
by a couple guys who liked shaving so much that bought a razor factory to make their
own. They’re cheap, they show up at your door, and they’re sharp both in look and… well,
sharpness. Just go to and use the promo code DNews to save $5 off your first
order AND you’ll be supporting the show.

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