Is it a cold, the flu or COVID? How to Combat Seasonal Illnesses

seasonal illness

While many people may think seasonal illnesses are worse around the holidays, flu season actually peaks in February. Since we are not quite in the clear yet, here is some important information from Manning Regional Healthcare Center (MRHC) to educate you about and prepare you for seasonal illnesses as well as some tips to help prevent illness.

According to MRHC Infection Preventionist, Jill Arp, influenza numbers are continuing at a steady pace. Common symptoms of the flu usually come on suddenly and include some or all of the following:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills are common and typically last three to four days
  • Aches are common and often severe
  • Chest discomfort and cough are common and can be severe
  • Sneezing, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose can sometimes occur
  • Muscle or body aches are common and can be severe
  • Headaches are common
  • Fatigue and weakness are common
  • Some people experience vomiting and diarrhea, but it is more common in children than adults

“To help protect yourself, it isn’t too late to get your flu shot,” says Arp, RN, BSN. “Doses are available at MRHC until the end of March, we just ask that you call ahead so we can be prepared.”

Complications from the flu are possible and can range in severity. According to the CDC, moderate complications can include sinus and ear infections, while serious complications such as pneumonia can result from either the flu virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria. Other possible serious complications can include inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues and multi-organ failure, including respiratory and kidney failure. Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis.

The flu also can make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition.

People at Higher Risk from Flu

Anyone can get sick with the flu, but some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. Those 65 years and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions (asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and children younger than five years old are at the highest risk, according to the CDC.

Warning Signs for Flu Complications in Children

When we’re sick, it can be difficult to know when a visit to the doctor is necessary, especially if it’s a child. Be aware of these warning signs and if your child displays any of the following, seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Ribs pulling in with each breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe muscle pain (child refuses to walk)
  • Dehydration (no urine for eight hours, dry mouth, no tears when crying)
  • Not alert or interacting when awake
  • Seizures
  • Fever above 104 degrees that is not controlled by fever-reducing medicine or any fever in children younger than 12 weeks
  • Fever or cough that improves but returns or worsens
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions
Warning Signs for Flu Complications in Adults
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Persistent dizziness, confusion, and inability to arouse
  • Seizures
  • Not urinating
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe weakness or unsteadiness
  • Fever or cough that improves but returns or worsens
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions

“It’s important to remember that if you or your child has a chronic health condition, are experiencing a persistent high fever, shortness of breath, chest pain, or the inability to keep any food or fluids down, it is more important to see your doctor sooner rather than letting it run its course,” advised Arp.

Common Cold Vs Flu or COVID-19

Especially at the beginning of an illness, it can hard to tell whether it’s just a common cold, the flu, or COVID. Here are some key differences to look for.

Common Cold Symptoms
  • Symptom onset is gradual
  • Fevers and headache are rare
  • Slight aches are possible
  • Chills are uncommon
  • Sometimes people experience fatigue and weakness
  • Sneezing is common
  • Mild to moderate chest discomfort and hacking cough
  • Stuffy nose and sore throat are common
COVID symptoms
  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you or a loved one test positive for COVID-19, it is important to watch for these emergency warning signs and seek medical attention if these symptoms are present:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
People at Higher Risk from COVID-19

While anyone is at risk of getting COVID, older adults, people with certain underlying medical conditions (including infants and children), and people who are pregnant are at higher risk.

Like the flu, COVID-19 can also lead to a variety of health complications including:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure or acute respiratory distress syndrome (fluid in the lungs)
  • Sepsis
  • Cardiac injury (for example, heart attacks and stroke)
  • Multiple-organ failure (respiratory failure, kidney failure, shock)
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions (involving the lungs, heart, or nervous system or diabetes)
  • Inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues
  • Secondary infections (bacterial or fungal infections that can occur in people with flu or COVID-19)

“To help protect yourself and others from sickness this winter, wash your hands often, get your immunizations, get enough sleep/rest, eat healthy, drink plenty of fluids, and stay away from those who are not feeling well,” shares Arp.

If you are not feeling well, MRHC offers convenient clinic hours and same-day appointments for minor illnesses. Call (712) 655-8100 to schedule an appointment.