What is the flu, and how is it different to a cold?
You wake up one morning with a sore throat, body aches and fever.1 Plus the kind of fatigue that makes you doubt whether you’ll be able to drag yourself out of bed.1 It’s suddenly hit you – the dreaded flu!
People often refer to a cold as the flu, but there is a big difference between the two. While they have similar symptoms, the flu is much more serious.1 Flu symptoms tend to appear quite suddenly and can become severe – it’s common to develop a high fever that lasts several days if you get the flu.1,2 Dangerous complications can also occur – such as pneumonia in very severe cases.1
In comparison, colds are much less severe, and this is because they aren’t caused by the same virus as the flu. Influenza virus causes the flu, but colds are caused by other types of viruses.3
Unfortunately, this means that the flu can’t be cured with antibiotics, because antibiotics don’t work against viruses.[1C] For the same reason, antibiotics won’t get rid of a cold either.1 However, you can take medications that ease some of the typical symptoms of both cold and flu, such as sore throat and fever.1,4
Why not prevent it?
Did you know there are many ways to help protect yourself from the flu? The easiest way to protect yourself is to get the flu vaccine – every year.2 You need to get it every year to stay protected because flu viruses change over time, so the vaccine is continually being updated to keep up with the virus.2
Getting vaccinated against the flu will not only protect you, but it will also help protect the whole community. This is because the flu virus can’t spread as easily when a lot of people have been vaccinated.3 There’s a big benefit to this: it means that those people who can’t be vaccinated (such as children younger than 6 months) also become protected when other people around them have been vaccinated. This community benefit is often referred to as ‘herd immunity’.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
Yes! For the vast majority of people, including pregnant mothers, the flu vaccine is safe.2
Nonetheless, some common side effects from the vaccine do occur – generally starting a day or two after you receive the injection. You might experience some soreness, redness or pain at the injection site, and it’s also possible to feel tiredness or muscle aches, or get a mild fever. But all these tend go away within a few days and without any type of treatment.2
While you’re deciding, stop the spread!
The flu vaccine is definitely your best shot against catching the flu, but you can do more to protect yourself and others.1,2
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, both before and after contact with other people. This is particularly important when you’re around people who may be sick or when you’re spending time in closed confined areas (such as trains and buses).
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Don’t use your hands, because then you’ll be more likely to spread your germs.
- Don’t share cups, plates, utensils with other people.
- If you’re sick, stay at home. It’s much better for everyone!
WebMD. What is the flu? Available at: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/what-is-flu#1 Accessed August 2018.
Australian Government Department of Health. The flu vaccine. Available at: https://beta.health.gov.au/resources/publications/the-flu-vaccine-information-for-consumers-in-2018-fact-sheet Accessed August 2018.
Sadarangani M. The flu shot: who should get it and why. Available at: https://theconversation.com/the-flu-shot-who-should-get-it-and-why-86609 Accessed August 2018.
WebMD. FAQ: cough and cold medicines. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/cold-medicine-treatment-when-what-how#1 Accessed August 2018.