A Cold…or the Flu?

(Video Transcription)

How do you know if the sore throat and the runny nose and the cough that you’re coming down with is a cold or if it might be the flu? Because starting antiviral medication for the flu early can be helpful, it’s an important question. When researchers have looked at this question, it turns out there’s a couple of things that are useful predictors.

Fast onset of symptoms

First off, when it’s flu season, the appearance of a cough and a fever and in some of the studies when these things appear pretty quickly like over the span of hours, those are a pretty good indicator that you may have the flu, specifically as the virus and not one of the other cold viruses. So, cough and a fever, and it’s typically a significant fever: 99.1, you can get that with a cold. 101, that’s more characteristic of the flu, but cough and a fever and in some of the studies if these symptoms appear quickly, you may have the flu and that may be worth a call to your doctor.

Benefit of treating flu promptly

All right, additional content for you members of the practice of Sentinel Primary Care. As you know, with each of these videos I do some additional content for the practice members. So here is the question: If I come down with these symptoms abruptly, and I’ve got my fever of 101, and I contact the office, and it turns out it’s flu, and I’ve contacted the office early, and I get started on Oseltamivir (or Tamiflu as it was under its brand name before it went generic), what do I get out of it? What’s the benefit to me? The benefits of starting antiviral medication early — and typically the first 48 hours are the key — benefits are potentially three things:

Sick for less time

Number one, shortening the course of the illness. The flu is a big illness, and typically folks can expect to feel really lousy for about 5 days and then a slow recuperation after that, but the worst of it on average is about five days. Starting medication within the first 48 hours reduces that “lousy” by about a day. It takes a five-day lousy illness down to about a four-day lousy illness. If it took it down to a one-day illness, that’d be great, but as it is, it’s good.

Lower risk of complications

Second is timely initiation of antiviral medication like Oseltamivir probably decreases by a good chunk the likelihood of complications of the flu. These are things like pneumonia, hospitalization. So early initiation of therapy is helpful with these.

Decreased contagiousness

The third one is more relevant to all the people around you: Treating with an antiviral medication decreases the contagiousness to other people or the duration of infectiousness to other people. That doesn’t necessarily help you, but everybody else will appreciate that you’ve gotten on medicine when they don’t get the flu from you.

I hope this is been helpful information. For Sentinel Primary Care in Brier Creek in Raleigh, I’m Dr. Patrick O’Connell.