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Answers To Five Important Questions About Cold And Flu

Armen Hareyan's picture

Every year, up to 20% of Americans get the flu, and one billion Americans suffer from colds. Yet people have many misconceptions about these seasonal miseries. Harvard Medical School's new report, 10-Minute Consult: Cold and Flu, debunks common myths and provides the facts you need to face this year's cold and flu season, including answers to these questions:

1. When should I stay home from work or keep my child home from school? It's important to stay home when you are most contagious. However, it can be hard to pin down just when that is. With a cold, you are contagious the entire time you have symptoms, but you are most likely to pass on your cold right after you contract the virus, before symptoms start. For the flu, you are most infectious from the day before symptoms start until about the fifth day of symptoms.

2. When should I see my doctor? Call your doctor if you experience high fever, shaking chills, chest pain with each breath, coughing that produces thick yellow-green mucus, dehydration, or worsening of a coexisting medical condition.

3. Why do colds and the flu increase in the winter? People are more likely to stay indoors when it's cold outside, so they pass germs around more easily.

4. Should I "feed a cold; starve a fever"? No, there is no need to eat more or less than usual. Do drink plenty of fluids.

5. Can I get a flu shot if I have a cold? Yes, you can get vaccinated as long as you are not feeling very sick and do not have a fever.

The report, from the Harvard Health Publications division of Harvard Medical School, also covers these topics:

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-- Causes and symptoms of colds and flu

-- Preventing colds and flu

-- Is it a cold or the flu?

-- Bird flu

-- Complications of flu

-- Strengthening your immune system

-- Treating cold and flu

-- Treating children, pregnant women, older adults, and the chronically ill