Cold or Flu? The Symptoms you Need to Know

March 3, 2009 --

"Every year there are deaths in Arkansas and in the U.S. and the people who are susceptible to that are the people at the extremes of ages such as infants and the elderly."

27 states throughout the u-s are now reporting widespread flu activity, with 17 confirmed deaths.

But doctors like Jeff Barber at NEA Clinic, say you can stop it before it's too late.

"If you can get a hold of the flu in the first 24-48 hours, there are some medications like Tamiflu that you can take that may shorten the course of the illness by about 1 - 1 1/2 days."

Barber says it's important to know the difference in the symptoms between a cold and the flu.

"Cold is a viral infection that is usually accompanied with runny nose, cough, congestion, and sometimes fever. The flu however will hit you all of a sudden, and usually be more systemic, muscle aches, bone aches, joint aches, headache or maybe even vomiting or gastro-intestinal illnesses. The one important thing about the flu versus the cold is the flu is preventable if you got your flu shot."

With many out of work and no insurance, Barber says at the NEA Clinic on Hilltop, they are still seeing as many as 50 patients a day.

He says you need to see your doctor when your symptoms get worse.

"Worsening symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting, dehydration signs, worsening fever that's not responding to tylenol or motrin, and problems breathing."

So when should you keep the kids home, or even you call in sick? Barber says a fever is the best indication.

"When you are exposed to the cold or flu virus, you may be contagious from one day before you have symptoms to 3-5 days after you have symptoms. They just feel terrible, and the good news is they will get over this, most of them, just next year, get your flu shot."

There are several ways to prevent colds and the flu.

- wash your hands frequently with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds

- get your flu shots annually

- doctors recommend taking antiviral drugs if you have been exposed to someone with the flu