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Cold or Flu? Can you spot the difference?

19 November 2014

Bedfordshire CCG is issuing advice to help people decide whether they have a cold or flu, as well as help them understand and manage their symptoms this Self Care Week (17 -23 November 2014).


On average, adults can expect two colds a year and children as many as 10, until they develop immunity. Bad colds can be mistaken for flu but how do you tell the difference?


Flu’s biggest symptom is a sudden high temperature of over 38 degrees Celsius and a sudden cough.  Other symptoms include headache, chills, aching muscles, limb or joint pain, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, loss of appetite and diarrhoea or stomach upset.


A cold on the other hand may present some of the same symptoms but these will appear at different stages.  Usually, with a cold, adults will not run a high temperature but children might.


Day 1-2

If you have flu this is the time when you will have a high temperature and symptoms that come on quickly. You will be shivering with a headache, muscle aches in the back and legs and you may feel dizzy. The high temperature should go down within 48 hours.


If you have a cold, this is the incubation stage, and there are no symptoms to tell you that you have been infected.


Days 2-3

If you have flu, your temperature should be dropping now and from here on your symptoms will be similar to those you get with colds.


If you have a cold, the first signs appear on day two with a tickle or soreness in the nose and/or throat and sometimes in the eyes. The sore throat gets worse and a dry cough might start. You start sneezing and your nose starts to run. 


Days 3-5

From day three the symptoms for both flu and colds are very similar. The discharge from the nose may change from clear and watery to thicker and yellowish in colour. Your nose starts to feel very stuffy and blocked up, and you might get pain in the forehead and around and behind the eyes. If the infection is a really nasty one, adults may still have a slight fever.


Days 5-14+

Symptoms should be starting to subside and you should start to feel better.


Your local pharmacy will have all the advice and treatment you need. You should only contact your GP if you think you have flu and you:


·         have a serious underlying illness

·         if you are pregnant

·         if you have a sick child under one year old

·         if your condition suddenly gets much worse or your condition is still getting worse after seven days (or five days for a child).


Try not to attend A&E with either illness, as there’s nothing the healthcare professionals can do for colds and flu and you run the risk of spreading the virus to other patients, who may be more vulnerable.


The best thing you can do is rest, drink plenty of fluids and help ease sore throats with cough lozenges, mixtures or sprays.  Make sure you check with your pharmacist whether any cold or flu remedies can be used with medication you’re already taking.


The important things to remember are:


  • Have a free flu jab at your GP surgery if you are over 65; have an underlying health condition; are pregnant or care for someone that has a an underlying health condition.
  • Don’t expect antibiotics. They won’t work.  Colds and flu are caused by viruses and antibiotics only work on bacterial infections.
  • Keep paracetamol or ibuprofen-based pain and fever treatment or cold remedies in the house. They will help with the symptoms of both colds and flu. 
  • Sneeze into a tissue and put it straight in the bin – don’t carry it around to reuse over and over again! 
  • Always wash hands with soap and water, particularly after sneezing and blowing your nose. Take the time to dry them properly as wet hands harbour and spread germs.
  • Keep surfaces clean.

Notes to editors

Notes to editors

To find out more about Self Care Week 2014, visit: http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/Yourhealth/Pages/self-care-week-2014.aspx


To find your nearest pharmacy, visit www.nhs.uk

·         Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group is responsible for planning, organising and buying NHS-funded healthcare for the 441,000 people who live in Bedfordshire. This includes hospital, community health and mental health services.

·         To find out more about Self Care Week 2014 visit: http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/Yourhealth/Pages/self-care-week-2014.aspx

·         To find your nearest pharmacy, visit www.nhs.uk

·         To find a pharmacy near you offering flu vaccinations visit www.bedfordshireccg.nhs.uk and follow the link on the home page

·         BCCG is run by GPs, nurses, hospital doctors and other clinicians – the people you see whenever you come into contact with the NHS. All 55 GP practices in Bedfordshire are members of the CCG which is divided into five areas, which we call localities. These are: Bedford, Chiltern Vale, Leighton Buzzard, Ivel Valley and West Mid Bedfordshire and all of the 55 GP practices in Bedfordshire are members.

·         In 2014-2015, BCCG has a budget of approximately £440m to spend on healthcare services for Bedfordshire. You can read more about how BCCG is organised in our constitution. It explains how we operate, make decisions and our governance structures and processes. You can also read our corporate plan which sets out our priorities and aims for 2014-15.

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