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(MCT)—Do you have a cold or the flu?

Flu season is upon us in full force and, unfortunately, your chances of being exposed to the miseries are greater than you think.

Three of four (75 percent) of the 1,044 Americans polled by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases said they would still go to at least one social situation even if they had flu symptoms.

And what are those symptoms?

Dr. Susan Rehm, medical director of the foundation, says there’s a big difference between cold and flu symptoms and they’re spelled FACTS:

F — The flu commonly results in fever.
A — Muscle aches are more common with the flu.
C — Chills are more common with the flu.
T — Real “I can’t get out of bed” tiredness is common with the flu.
S — A cold usually comes on gradually and a flu suddenly.

“And it is important to know whether you have a cold or the flu,” Rehm says. “About all we can offer for a cold is chicken soup and symptom relief medications. There are anti-viral prescriptions available to treat the flu.”

Obviously, you get better faster with medications, she says.

“There are three approaches you should take,” Rehm says. “Know what you have to prevent it from spreading; get vaccinated to prevent the spread and use anti-viral medications.”

Only half of Americans are vaccinated against the flu even though the vaccination is easy to find—often distributed at pharmacies—and relatively cheap, she says.

“It’s rare for people not to be able to take the vaccination because of allergies and these people should know who they are. Still up to 40,000 Americans die annually from the flu and hundreds of thousands are hospitalized as it turns into pneumonia and other diseases.”

It is not too late to be vaccinated for the current seasonal “high,” the doctor says.

Although the flu traditionally peaks in January and February, it has peaked as late as April. The vaccination takes approximately two weeks to be effective.

Preventive measures include covering the mouth or nose when sneezing or coughing and staying home when you are sick.

“Don’t spread the flu by being around others,” Rehm says. “Stay out of circulation until a day after the fever is gone.”

Despite knowing better, Americans continue social interaction even when they have flu symptoms, she acknowledged.

Among the Foundation survey results were these findings:

• More than 4 in 10 people would get on a plane for vacation or a business trip even if they thought they were coming down with the flu.
• A majority said they would go to school or work, but only 24 percent would go to their grandmother’s 80th birthday party or out to an anniversary dinner with a spouse
• Americans worry more about spreading flu to others in their household (83 percent) than about spreading it to strangers in public places (58 percent).

“We all have a responsibility to each other not to spread this disease,” Rehm says. “Obviously, we need to take that responsibility more seriously.”

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©2012 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services