Flu 101: Is it a cold or the flu?

Do you know how to tell if you have a cold or the flu?
If you can make yourself a latte, you probably don’t have the flu. (Photo credit: Anthony Tran/Unsplash)

It can be hard figuring out if you’ve got the cold or a flu. You kind of want to know though, as the flu is way more serious than a cold. Colds can come and go, but I think when you’ve got fever and chills and really don’t care about eating – that’s when you’ve got the flu. I tapped the medical experts at Shoppers Drug Mart to get the definitive on the difference between a cold and the flu, and how to best prevent either.

Flu 101: Is it a cold or the flu?
I adore my Shopper’s pharmacist, but no matter how many times he puts fancy branded band-aids on me, he always gets them upside down!

What’s the difference between having a cold or the flu?

The symptoms are similar, but a cold tends to develop gradually, usually over the course of a day or two and can last up to two weeks. The flu can come out of nowhere and hit hard. Fever can last a few days and you can feel all weak, tired and pathetic for potentially several weeks.

Influenza hospitalized more than 1,600 Albertans last year. I read this on a billboard last week. According to a recent Calgary Herald article, Calgary has 4x the number of flu cases than Edmonton. According to the article, Health Canada says Alberta has the most intense frequency of flu in the country. What is up with that?

This is annoying for two reasons. (Please indulge my short rant.)

  1. Hospitalization costs run into the million dollars of tax payers money.
  2. The flu is preventable.

Does the flu vaccine give you the flu?

It doesn’t. You won’t get sick because of the flu shot. Flu vaccinations delivered by a needle are either made with an ‘inactivated’ flu virus that’s not infectious, or with no flu virus at all.

Do you need to get the flu shot every year?

Yep. In order to best protect yourself from the flu, you need to be vaccinated annually. It doesn’t have to be an annoying time consuming process. Canadians can hit up any Shoppers Drug Mart and get their flu shot without an appointment.

woman getting flu vaccine
Just. Can’t. Look.

When’s the best time to get the flu shot?

The best time to get your flu shot soon is as soon as it’s available – usually in October. The antibodies delivered via the vaccine (that protect you against infection) take up to two weeks to take effect. The flu typically peaks between December and February, which is why you’ll generally want to get your flu shot well before all your holiday events. In fact, experts warn the number of flu cases is continuing to rise across Canada, suggesting the peak of infections could come within a few weeks. Thankfully, it’s never too late to get your shot and you can still protect yourself for the eye of the storm.

shoppers drug mart pharmacist
Mr. Patel, my favourite Shoppers pharmacist, gets ready to give me my annual flu shot

Not all hand sanitizers are created equal

Another majorly easy thing to do to prevent being sick – wash your hands! A lot. And don’t touch your hands to your face. Don’t rub your eyes, scratch your nose and for heaven’s sake, never pick anything out of your teeth. Especially not in public!!

If you can’t wash your hands regularly, go ahead and use hand sanitizer, but make sure it’s at least 50% alcohol. Over 60% is better. Many of the cutesy, smelly sanitizers tween girls like aren’t this high, though.

Is not shaking hands rude?

For the second year in a row, I caught a cold at my Canadian travel media conference last month. I felt like a loser, but I refused to shake hands with anyone. I offered them an elbow and I gave some beloved colleagues a first bump. While I might have come off as socially awkward for not sharking hands, I think the majority of those I met appreciated not getting my germs. Apparently, shaking hands transmits 2x more bacteria than high fives, and 10x more bacteria than bumping fists.

Do you treat yourself differently when you have a cold vs the flu? I do. I still workout when I have a cold (but I wipe down the machines!), but I completely hibernate when I have the flu. Do you do anything differently with a cold vs the flu?

This post is sponsored by Shoppers Drug Mart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Travels with Baggage.

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