10 quick questions and answers about colds, flu and coronavirus

Still immersed in the pandemic, strong cold and flu season begins. To avoid these diseases, in addition to following the usual sanitary measures, scientific knowledge is the best ally. This list of quick questions and answers will serve to disprove the most popular beliefs about these ailments and answer the most frequent doubts.

What’s the difference between the flu, colds, and COVID-19?

The flu and colds are very different illnesses, but they have very similar symptoms at first. The same thing happens with COVID-19, especially for vaccinated people, whose symptoms are usually mild and are easily confused with those of a common cold. Mucus, cough or local inflammation are nothing more than the response of the immune system trying to stop the virus. Usually the flu causes fever and muscle aches, while colds start with a stuffy nose and a sore throat.

All three diseases are caused by viruses, but they are different viruses. Most common colds are caused by rhinoviruses, of which there are more than 100 subtypes, although they can sometimes be caused by adenoviruses, human metapneumoviruses, and various types of coronaviruses. The flu is caused by influenzavirus. And COVID-19 due to a specific coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

How do you know if it’s a cold, flu or COVID-19?

Making a good diagnosis from the symptoms is not always possible, that’s why the most reliable way is testing, such as antigen tests or PCRs.

Why is it so important to get a flu shot this year?

Each year there are between 3 and 5 million cases of severe influenza and about 650,000 deaths worldwide. This represents a huge health burden and a great economic impact for a system already quite fatigued by the pandemic. For this reason, the objectives established by the World Health Organization and by the European Commission aim to achieve a vaccination coverage greater than 75% in the elderly, and total for health professionals and risk groups. Thanks to vaccines, health and economic pressure will be reduced, deaths and health complications associated with the flu will be avoided, and infections will be reduced.

Is it possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Being two diseases caused by different viruses, it is possible to become infected at the same time. In fact, the risk of death of people infected by SARS-CoV-2 it doubles when those affected also have the flu. This is also why it is very important to get vaccinated against the flu.

Who should get a flu shot?

People 65 and older should get a flu shot, pregnant women, children between 6 months and 2 years old with a history of prematurity, people who reside in reception centers, residences or penitentiary institutions; people who have a high risk of complications derived from influenza due to chronic cardiovascular, neurological or respiratory diseases, people with immunosuppression, diabetes, cancer, morbid obesity, etc.

It is also important that people who can spread the flu to people at risk of complications. Here are the health workers, people who work in geriatric institutions, in care centers for the chronically ill or who provide home help, and also the State security forces and bodies, civil protection, firefighters and personnel of penal institutions.

It is also important that farmers and people who work with poultry, pigs and horses get vaccinated against the flu. Influenza A are the viruses that cause human flu, but also avian, swine and equine flu. As influenza viruses have a high mutation rate, species crosses must be avoided to avoid pandemics. Vaccination reduces the chance of a concomitant infection of human and avian or porcine viruses, reducing the possibility of recombination or genetic exchange between viruses.

Does cold cause colds?

Colds are caused by viruses, not the cold. Nevertheless, the cold encourages contagion. For example, when the cold arrives, more time is usually spent indoors and in poorly ventilated spaces, which facilitates the transmission of all types of viruses. In addition, heating dries out the mucous membranes and the environment, which facilitates infections. Temperatures also affect the ability of the immune system, since it has to deal with the cold and viruses at the same time, which can give them a certain advantage. There is also scientific evidence that low temperatures benefit the viruses that cause colds and flu viruses, keeping them active and infective for longer.

Can you cure the flu or colds with paracetamol?

Acetaminophen does not cure the flu, colds, or COVID-19, but it does relieve some of the symptoms. The most common treatment for acute respiratory infections caused by viruses is to relieve symptoms as the disease progresses and the immune system defends itself and clears the viruses. Therefore, it is necessary to select those medications that are best adapted in each case to the symptoms to be alleviated. For example, for fever and pain there is paracetamol, for cough there are antitussives such as extromethorphan, for nasal secretions and congestion there is chlorphenamine, and for fatigue and decay there is caffeine. They are ingredients that They tend to coexist with drugs called anti-flu.

Can the flu, colds, or COVID-19 be cured or prevented with antibiotics?

Antibiotics do not cure or prevent the flu, colds, or COVID-19. Antibiotics are useful against bacteria, but they are useless against viruses. Illnesses caused by viruses such as the flu or colds not only cannot be treated with antibiotics, but doing so is counterproductive because it contributes to increasing resistance to antibiotics, the other pandemic in the making.

Can vitamin C cure or prevent the flu, colds, or COVID-19?

Vitamin C is found in abundance in fruits and vegetables. It helps the absorption of iron, the synthesis of collagen, favors the metabolism of fats and prevents cellular aging. But vitamin C neither prevents nor cures colds, flu, or COVID-19. This belief has an origin that is very interesting when analyzing how some myths are kept alive. It turns out that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry Linus Pauling published a text in which he recommended a daily consumption of 3000 mg of vitamin C to prevent colds. Since then, dozens of scientific studies have been done trying to link vitamin C consumption with colds, but none of them has found such a relationship.

The origin of this myth This is what is known as the “fallacy of authority”: If something has been said by a Nobel laureate, it is given credit, even if there is no scientific evidence to support it. The myth of vitamin C has survived today because of that. Many people still believe that vitamin C is of any use, and they demand supplements and anti-flu medications that contain vitamin C. That is why pharmaceutical companies offer them. It is not that laboratories are not aware of what cures or prevents colds, it is that they respond to a demand that exists and is deeply rooted. Seeing vitamin C as a claim in these drugs has made this belief even more consolidated.

Do food supplements or herbal teas help to strengthen the immune system against flu, colds or COVID-19?

SEI Recommendations (Spanish Society of Immunology) to maintain the immune system in an optimal state are: balanced diet, not smoking, not consuming alcohol, doing moderate exercise on a regular basis, resting, avoiding stress and, above all, getting vaccinated.

Food supplements, “super foods”, herbal teas or “magic herbs” have not been shown to strengthen the immune system. Food supplements are only indicated for those who have a deficiency derived from a pathology and therefore have been prescribed as a reinforcement by the doctor. But healthy people do not need to consume any food supplements if they can eat a balanced diet.

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10 quick questions and answers about colds, flu and coronavirus