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FOR RELEASE: December 17, 2002
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
405/271-5601

Is it the Flu or a Cold?

Flu season in Oklahoma usually occurs from December to March every year. One of the most frequently asked questions from the public to health officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is “How can I tell the difference between the flu and the common cold?”

According to state health officials, influenza is characterized by the sudden onset of symptoms including fever of at least 100 degrees, muscle aches, fatigue, and dry cough. Several upper respiratory viruses have similar symptoms but they begin slowly and persons with these illnesses are likely to have felt "something coming on."

State health officials continue to encourage persons who have not yet received a flu shot to do so, especially those at high risk of getting the flu, which includes people over 50 years of age, immunocompromised persons, diabetics, and persons with lung or heart diseases/disorders, such as emphysema or congestive heart failure.

The vaccine may give them the protection they need to help prevent complications of influenza, like pneumonia. And because secondary bacterial pneumonia is one of the more serious and frequent complications resulting from influenza, persons in the high-risk group should also talk with their health care provider about receiving a pneumonia (pneumococcal) vaccination, if they haven’t received one already.

Health officials caution that it takes up to two weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective and any exposure to the influenza virus during that period may result in the flu. Antiviral medications can be prescribed by your physician to reduce the severity and duration of influenza illness; however, these must be administered within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.

Health officials suggest that if you have upper respiratory, "flu-like" symptoms, you should drink lots of water or other non-alcoholic, noncaffeinated fluids to prevent dehydration, and get plenty of rest. One of the most effective ways to stop the spread of respiratory viruses is frequent and thorough hand washing. In addition, cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and stay home from work or school, especially during the early stages of the disease.

Persons interested in obtaining a flu shot can contact their health care provider, county health department, local pharmacies, or home health care agencies to see if they still have flu vaccine available.

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