FAQs - Colds and Flu

Q1.  How do we catch colds?


The common cold is an acute infection of the throat and nasal passages. It may be caused by several different viruses, the most common of which are rhinoviruses. The term 'common cold' refers to a set of symptoms, rather than a specific disease.   The virus is transmitted by tiny droplets that are sneezed and coughed by people into the air.  The virus spreads quickly through coughing, sneezing and touching things with hands and tissues that others then touch.
Source:  http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=240&np=297&id=2113

Q2.  Why do we catch colds in winter?


Common colds are seasonal, occurring more frequently during winter. This is believed to be partly due to a change in behaviours such as increased time spent indoors, which puts infected people in close proximity to other people, rather than exposure to cold temperatures.
Source: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Can_you_catch_a_cold_from_being_cold#ixzz1NPjD8ucY

Q3.  What is the flu (influenza)?


The flu (influenza) is a highly infectious illness that spreads rapidly when people who are carrying the virus, cough and sneeze. Antibiotics will not treat the flu because it is caused by a virus, not a bacteria.

Q4.  How does the flu spread?


All human flu strains are spread when infected respiratory droplets (from coughing or sneezing) come into contact with a mucous membrane (lining of nose, mouth or eyes) of someone without the flu. Infection also may be spread by contact with hands, tissues and other items which have been in contact with or used for infected nose and throat discharges.

Q5.  What types of flu are there?


Several types of flu exist.

Seasonal (or common) flu is a respiratory illness that can be transmitted between people. Most people have some immunity, and a vaccine is available.

Pandemic influenza is a highly infectious strain of influenza that can cause a global outbreak. A pandemic can spread quickly before a vaccine becomes available. Bird Flu (or Avian Flu) is caused by Type A influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. The H5N1 variant is deadly to domestic fowl and can be transmitted from birds to humans. There is no human immunity and no vaccine is available.

Q6.  What should I do if I get the flu?


Suggested actions are:

  • Limit contact with others ie stay home if possible, rest and keep up fluids.

  • If you need to, take painkillers such as paracetamol to relieve headache, muscle pain and reduce fever. Don’t take more than the recommended dose

  • Consult your doctor if you have an underlying medical condition, become short of breath, or have been sick for a week or more and aren’t getting better

  • In all instances, exercise good personal hygiene (e.g. washing hands)

Q7.  What is the difference between a cold and the flu?


The table below shows the differences:

Cold Flu
Mainly affects head and throat. May get symptoms throughout the body.
No fever, except toddlers and infants who may show a fever of between 37.5 and 39ºC. An abrupt fever in the 38.5 to 42ºC range.
Nasal stuffiness, sneezing and runny nose, sometimes a throat irritation. Sudden fever followed by flushed face, body aches, headache, lack of energy, and sometimes dizziness and vomiting.
Symptoms begin 1 to 5 days after catching a cold, usually with irritation in the nose or a scratchy feeling in the throat, followed within hours by sneezing and a watery nasal discharge. Symptoms begin within 1 and 3 days - Usually fever, tiredness, and muscle aches followed by an increase in respiratory symptoms which can include croup, sore throat, bronchiolitis, ear infection and/or pneumonia.
Usually over in 7 days, although a cough may linger. Symptoms (except a cough) usually disappear within 4 to 7 days.  Sometimes the fever returns. The cough and tiredness may last for some weeks.
Very common infectious disease caused by more than 200 different types of viruses. Seasonal flu is preventable. Each year, there are two or three different strains of influenza virus that cause flu. Vaccines are developed to combat the flu strains predicted.
Contact your GP for more information  

 Reference: Government of South Australia SA Health

Q8.  What is the impact of colds and flus in Australian businesses?


Each year in Australia colds and flu cause an estimated:

  • 1,500,000 lost work days
  • 300,000 visits to the doctor
  • 18,000 hospital admissions

Source: http://www.health.qld.gov.au

Q9.  How can an employer help stop the spread of flu in the workplace?


An employer can help stop the spread of infection in the workplace by encouraging staff to practise good personal hygiene. St John can complete an infection control risk assessment of your workplace and recommend training and products to minimise infection.

Q10.  Can I catch the flu through the air-conditioning system at work?


No. Common colds and the flu are caused by a virus. If your immune system is not strong, then you may be more likely to catch a cold or a flu. This is not transmitted by the air-conditioning system, however the cold, dry air, may dry out the mucous membranes of your throat and mouth, making it easier for you to pick up any viruses.

Q11.  Should I use a surgical face mask when I have the flu or a cold?


Surgical face masks are loose-fitting, disposable masks that cover the nose and mouth. A face mask will reduce your spread of infected airborne droplets whilst sneezing and coughing. There is no evidence that using a face mask will protect you from the flu.

Using a face mask is an individual choice, unless there is a general direction from the health authorities or your organisation to do so. Masks should be worn once only and disposed of hygienically

Q12.  What should I do if I my child has a cold or flu and I have to work?


Talk to your employer and consult your GP.

Q13.  Should I have a vaccination to protect me against the flu?


Having a flu vaccination is an individual choice. Anyone can get the flu, but it can be more serious for certain people such as:

  • people aged 65 or over
  • people who have a serious medical condition
  • pregnant women

If you are in one of these groups, you are more vulnerable to the effects of flu (even if you are fit and healthy). Consult your GP about whether to take the flu vaccination.

Q14.  When is the best time to have a flu vaccination?


If your GP makes a recommendation or you choose to have a vaccination, the best time of the year is before winter, traditionally, the start of the flu season.

Q15.  How effective is flu vaccination?


No vaccine is 100% effective; however, people who have had the flu vaccination are less likely to get flu. If you do get the flu despite having the flu shot, it will probably be milder in its effects.

In a flu pandemic, a vaccine will not initially be available and it may take some time for it to be released. Consult your doctor for availability.

Q16.  Are flu vaccines safe?


All vaccines used in Australia have been extensively tested for safety.

Before a vaccine can be used in Australia it must be licensed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).The TGA extensively assesses each vaccine for safety and effectiveness. The assessment is based on scientific evidence (clinical trials).

Any medicine including a vaccine can possibly cause serious problems, such as a severe allergic reaction. However, the risk of the flu vaccine causing serious harm is extremely small. You should not have a flu vaccination if you have a serious allergy to hens' eggs.

Q17.  Do vitamins and other health supplements help to prevent colds and flu?


Many people like to take dietary supplements to fight colds and flu. For example:

  • Vitamin C supplements: You need Vitamin C for a healthy immune system; there is no current scientific evidence that taking large doses of Vitamin C will prevent or reduce the symptoms of colds or flu.
  • Zinc supplements: Zinc is a mineral that is needed for a healthy immune system; however, studies show little or no benefit from taking zinc.
  • Echinacea: This herb is available as a dietary supplement and is used to prevent or decrease the duration of the common cold. There is some evidence that taking echinacea supplements may be effective.

The best approach to reduce your risk of catching a cold or flu is to stay healthy: eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, get plenty of exercise and enough sleep each night. Practise good hand hygiene.

Q18.  Are handkerchiefs OK to use or should I use tissues?


Tissues are best to use as handkerchiefs may harbour infective organisms. If only a handkerchief is available, use once and wash as soon as possible.

Q19.  Is disposing of tissues after use in the waste paper bin OK?


Yes. Dispose used tissues in a bin without delay and with minimum handling. Make sure you practise good hand hygiene afterwards.

Q20.  When travelling, what can I do to protect myself against infection?


If you travel regularly, always practise good hand hygiene and social distancing where possible.

Always wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with sick people, after coughing, sneezing, going to the toilet, or before eating. Using an alcohol based hand rub is of benefit when soap and water are not available.

If you are travelling overseas, you should check Smartraveller.gov.au for updates and travel advice.

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