Differentiating between the flu and common cold

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Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013 4:01 pm | Updated: 6:42 pm, Fri Jan 11, 2013.

BRADENTON - The CDC said it appears the flu has reached its peak in some of the worst hit areas and the vaccine seems to be working yet still the number of cases nationwide remains high.  

Although we're seeing a mild amount of cases on the Suncoast, doctors said it's important to spot the symptoms and catch it early on but also make sure you know the difference between the flu and the common cold.

"There's a lot of people that are coming to the emergency room with the symptoms of cough, cold," said Manatee Memorial Hospital Emergency Room staff nurse Michael Zimmermann.

While many of us feel we can diagnose ourselves pretty well, we might not always be right.

"A lot of them do end up having the flu,"  Zimmermann said.  "And we catch it early and it's good.  But for a lot of them it's just the normal, everyday cold."

What is the difference between the flu and the common cold?  Doctors said they are pretty similar but there are ways to tell one from the other.

"Generally the flu is going to have very profound muscle aches, joint aches," Dr. Henry Smoak said, who works at Manatee Memorial Hospital.  "Profound fatigue.  Generally abrupt fever, cough, sore throat."

Dr. Smoak said the flu has a more intense onset than a cold.

"The common cold is relatively a minor illness," he said.  "You certainly generally will have some gradual progression of the symptoms."

Which is why before you rush to and clog up emergency room, Dr. Smoak said it's wise to contact your doctor or go to a walk-in clinic instead.

"Just because you have respiratory symptoms doesn't mean you have the flu," said Dr. Smoak.  "Most of the respiratory patients that we see do not have the flu."

However doctors send an important message to those 55 or older, especially those with chronic illnesses, and parents with children less than two with symptoms.

"You get an abrupt onset of fever, chills, muscle aches, coughing, you really need to be evaluated in the emergency room," said Dr. Smoak.

If you feel your symptoms are at all life threatening, doctors urge you to go to the emergency room right away.

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