Girl blowing her nose --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

The Nigerian weather is such a unique one, in that , despite our been divinely located in the tropics, our cold seasons, that is the rainy season, are characterized by symptoms similar to what obtains in the cold temperate countries, in Europe or other parts of the world, during the winter .
The imminent drop in temperature, along with the rains from the heavy clouds, results in many people coming down with cold and Flu.
It is good to know that these two conditions have very similar presentations or symptoms. They are both respiratory illnesses and there are very minor visible differences that would enable you to differentiate them.
Many times you may have dismissed sniffles as “just a cold,” and carried on with a stuffed nose and sinuses assuming that the symptoms would eventually run their course, and  perhaps a bit more quickly with a few doses of a home remedy.

Differentiate them
The Influenza [ flu]  is a viral infection caused by the influenza virus, a respiratory virus.  The flu is known to be from influenza and is preventable with vaccination.  Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system — your nose, throat and lungs. Influenza, commonly called the flu, is not the same as stomach “flu” viruses that cause diarrhea and vomiting. For most people, influenza resolves on its own, but sometimes, influenza and its complications can be deadly.

Risk group
• Young children under 5, and especially those under 2 years
• Adults older than 65
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
• Pregnant women
• People with weakened immune systems
• People who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes
• People who are very obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher.
Mode of transmission:
Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly, or you can pick up the germs from an object — such as a telephone or computer keyboard and then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth. People with the virus are likely contagious from the day or so before symptoms first appear until about five days after symptoms begin, though sometimes people are contagious for as long as 10 days after symptoms appear. Children and people with weakened immune systems may be contagious for a slightly longer time.
The common cold is also a viral infection caused by the adenovirus or coronavirus and there are many variants. That is why it is said there is no cure for the common cold and  there is no real vaccine.

Symptoms
Colds tend to produce
•    runny nose,
•    congestion,
•     sore throat.
•    With a cold, there is sometimes a low-grade fever.
Influenza is more pronounced in that it:
Initially, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. And although a cold can be a nuisance, you usually feel much worse with the flu.

Common signs and symptoms of the flu include
• Fever over 100 F (38 C)
• Aching muscles, especially in your back, arms and legs
• Chills and sweats
• Headache
• Dry, persistent cough
• Fatigue and weakness
• Nasal congestion
• Sore throat.
• infects the lungs,
•  the joints and
• causes pneumonia,
• respiratory failure and even
• death , if not handled appropriately.
It tends to infect the intestinal tract more in kids, with diarrhea and vomiting. Because of the relative immaturity of the gut, they may absorb more virus and that wreaks more havoc on the intestines. Flu causes epidemics and pandemics  with the potential for mortality, whereas the common cold is  really a nuisance making you very uncomfortable.

Severity and duration
The body can respond in only so many ways, but there are things you can use to differentiate.  Allergies on the other hand, have some similarities in the symptoms presented with colds and Flu. Allergic symptoms are similar to those of a cold,  because this comes about , because your body is reacting to the presence of something  and our immune system responding to something benign. Usually there is  no fever, and there’s an allergic manifestation of  itch in the back of the throat or the ears. It is unlikely with allergy to have body aches. With a cold, there’s sometimes a low-grade fever.
You can tell the difference by the length and severity of the illness and whether you’ve had a similar experience in the past. Both colds and flu usually last the same seven to 10 days, but flu can go three to four weeks; the flu virus may not still be there, but you have symptoms long after it’s left. Allergy can last weeks or months.

Treatments
Rest and Fluids
The simplest remedy is for you to go on bed rest and  take plenty of fluids to treat the flu. Get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection. Drink plenty of liquids. Choose water, juice and warm soups to prevent dehydration. .

Saline gargle
The use of a saline gargle [ warm water with salt ], is a first-line defense for any of these things, if it affects the nose or sinus,  gets the mucus and virus out.  It’s not the most pleasant thing to do, but it works very well.

Over the counter medication
Antivirals..
Taking antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours after you first notice symptoms may reduce the length of your illness and help prevent more-serious problems.  There are classes of medicines that can help the flu , Tamiflu and Relenza  which are  antivirals that block viruses’ ability to reproduce and shorten the length and severity of the illness. But they have to be taken within 48 hours . For a cold or flu,  rest and use decongestants and antihistamines, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, chicken soup and fluids.

Pain relievers..
The use of over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Tylenol,  or ibuprofen , to combat the achiness associated with influenza.

Zinc
Zinc  helps the body’s natural defenses work to their natural capacity and decrease the severity and length of a cold. Cells need zinc as a catalyst in their protective processes, so if you supply them with zinc, it helps them work more efficiently. You should also withhold iron supplements. Viruses use iron as part of their reproductive cycle, so depriving them of it blocks their dissemination.
The majority of these infections are not bacterial and do not respond to antibiotics.  Normally, a viral infection should go away in seven to ten days. If symptoms persist after that, your doctor may want to assess you, to know  if it is   bacteria like  streptococcus or an Influenzae  bacteria , which  cause illnesses that are longer lasting.
For children, most children will have six to eight colds a year in their first three years of life, and most are viral. It is important to check for the presence of bacterial in children, with these symptoms, who do not respond to common medication, before giving antibiotics. The best thing is to see your paediatrician quickly.
Home Remedy
I have personally tried a garlic/ginger/lemon/honey mixture. This blend is taken in  warm water, and sipped about 3-4 times a day. And rest, rest, rest. It works wonders.  Eat lots of healthy fruits and vegetables.
Prevention tactics
• As much as possible, avoid anyone with a cold or Flu.
•  Strict hand washing, Thorough and frequent hand-washing is an effective way to prevent many common infections. Or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water aren’t readily available
•  not sharing drinking cups or utensils, and
• Avoiding direct contact with people who are sneezing. Contain your coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. To avoid contaminating your hands, cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the inner crook of your elbow. It is important to know that, as long as someone has a fever, they have the possibility to transmit infection.  But if after they have had no fever for 24 hours, they are not infectious.
• Avoid crowds. Flu spreads easily wherever people congregate — in child care centers, schools, office buildings, auditoriums and public transportation. By avoiding crowds during peak flu season, you reduce your chances of infection. And, if you’re sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides so that you lessen your chance of infecting others.