House Call: Distinguishing Between the Flu and Other Respiratory IllnessesAired January 17, 2000 - 1:20 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's not always easy to tell whether you have the flu.
So let's check in with CNN medical correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore in New York.
Thank you for making this house call, Steve.
DR. STEVE SALVATORE, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No problem, Natalie.
ALLEN: So how do you know whether you have the flu or just a cold?
SALVATORE: Well, you know, it can be difficult to distinguish between the flu and other respiratory viruses, not just the cold, because they all can cause very similar symptoms. And to be 100 percent sure, a separate test really should be done to determine if the illness you have is indeed the flu.
But, in general, a cold is an inflammation or infection of the respiratory tract, and there's usually no fever, and it mostly affects the nose and throat. You may feel weak and tired, but it's nowhere near the weakness you feel when you have the flu.
Now, the flu, on the other hand, is like a really bad cold with full body symptoms. There's usually fever, cough, sore throat, runny or congested nose, headache with severe weakness and muscle aches. Most people will tell you now that they just couldn't get out of bed and they felt like they were hit by a Mack truck.
ALLEN: Right, that usually defines the difference pretty easily.
ALLEN: Well, when should you go to the doctor? Just last night -- I'm getting free advice here -- my little boy has a cough and we didn't know whether he should go to the doctor or not.
SALVATORE: Yes, my kids, too.
But, basically, if you want one of those new flu drugs that help shorten the duration of the flu, you need to see a doctor within the first 24-48 hours of symptoms. But if you're already past that window of opportunity, most otherwise healthy people should probably see the doctor if they have trouble breathing, if they have chest pain when breathing, if they have wheezing, severe sore throat, not just a little soar through, light-headedness, or severe weakness and irritability.
Also, if you're not getting better after about a week to 10 days, you might want to call your doctor. Now, I don't mean better meaning getting over it completely, just starting to, you know, turn the corner. In addition, people who have chronic diseases like kidney failure, diabetes, asthma, heart failure, liver disease, and people over age 65 should see their doctor at the first sign of symptoms and not wait.
ALLEN: OK, and are there a lot of misconceptions about the flu?
SALVATORE: Oh, there's so many. But the biggest misconception is that you can get the flu from the flu shot. Now, that is completely untrue. The flu shot contains killed virus, so you absolutely cannot get it. The most common reaction, if any, is a little redness or swelling at the injection site.
Now, many people swear tat they've had the flu after getting the shot. But I'll tell you: It's more likely to be either another type of infection, or they were exposed to the flu before the shot had a chance to work, because it usually takes about two weeks before it becomes effective.
Another big misconception is that the flu shot doesn't work. Now, each year, scientists try to match up the flu shot with whatever influenza virus they think is most likely to cause the flu that season. They usually pick three viruses. Now, sometimes they're right on the mark, but other times the virus can change or mutate, make the flu shot less effective. But, in general, studies show the vaccine is about 70-90 percent effective in young, healthy adults.
And the third misconception is that the flu is no big deal and that most people can handle it. But, in truth, Natalie, about 20,000 people die each year from the flue, and over 100,000 people get hospitalized. So it is a big deal and it should be taken very seriously.
ALLEN: All right, hopefully everyone paid close attention to your good advice.
SALVATORE: That's it.
ALLEN: Thank you, doctor.
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