Do you know the difference between a cold and influenza?


17 July 2018

While Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) recognises that winter illnesses can be very unpleasant, health promotion officer Chester Penaflor says feeling unwell doesn’t always require a visit to the doctor.

Over the winter months in particular, health services tend to see a lot of people unnecessarily seeking medical help for common colds from their general practice doctor, Whanganui Accident & Medical (WAM) and Whanganui Hospital’s Emergency Department.

Mr Penaflor says that although having a cold is unpleasant, it is not the same as having the influenza virus and in most cases does not require a visit to the doctor.

“Its important people understand the difference between a cold and the flu,” Mr Penaflor says. “While a cold might take a day to develop, influenza can do so within a few hours and with an accompanying fever (more than 38.6 degrees Celsius) and muscle aches.”

“Most colds last a week or two at the most, and in general, you probably won’t need to see a doctor. Self-care such as getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids and avoiding exposure to smoke is what you need to do. Taking Panadol for your fever, aches and pains can also help.”

“Don’t be alarmed by coughing. It’s the body’s way of removing mucus from your airway passages, or of reacting to an irritated airway.”

“Because colds and flu are caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help you get better any sooner. Antibiotics only work when someone has a bacterial infection.”

Mr Penaflor says the time people should see their GP is when they have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Skin rash
  • An earache that gets more painful
  • A sore throat and/or cough that gets worse or becomes painful.
  • Difficulty with breathing and/or chest pain
  • High fever lasting for more than two days
  • Chills and headaches that last several days.

“This is especially important for young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses who are at higher risk for complications caused by colds”.

  • If you are caring for a young baby and need reassurance then by all means go to your general practice where a nurse can give you support and advice or phone Healthline on 0800 611 116.
  • If you are elderly, on lots of medication and are anxious about how to manage your health then either phone Healthline in the first instance or go to your general practice doctor and ask for advice.

“To help reduce unnecessary visits to your doctor, WAM or the hospital’s Emergency Department, do your best to determine if you have a common cold or influenza.”

“And if you catch either, try to avoid spreading the bugs further. We always urge people to cough or sneeze into the crook of their arm rather into their hand. And last but not least, don’t forget that the flu vaccine is available until the end of December.”