Atishoo! Does my child have a cold – or the flu?
Posted on 25 December 2019
Although a cold and the flu share similar symptoms – and are both caused by viruses – they are two different conditions.
Even if you go to great lengths to protect your child from colds and flu, chances are they will suffer from up to 10 colds before their second birthday. “The main difference is that the common cold can be caused by up to 200 different types of viruses, while flu is caused by specific influenza viruses,” says Dr Bianca Vermeulen, a GP at Mediclinic Midstream.
When it comes to the common cold, symptoms usually come on gradually and affect the nose, sinuses and throat. “Most colds start with a sore throat and runny nose, followed by a cough and mild fever within a day or two,” says Dr Vermeulen. “However, if your child has flu, they are more likely to fall sick suddenly with a fever, chills, body aches and fatigue. They might experience a dry cough, sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose too.”
It is important to remember that your doctor won’t prescribe antibiotics for colds or flu because they do not work against viruses. Instead, focus on keeping your little one as comfortable as possible with plenty of fluids and rest while the illness runs its course.
A cold can last between three and 10 days, while flu can last up to three weeks. Although you don’t need to take your child to the doctor for the common cold or flu, if you notice any serious symptoms, it’s important that they get seen by a medical professional. These symptoms might include a persistent fever above 38.5OC that does not respond to antipyretics (eg. Panado), trouble breathing, earache, irritability, vomiting or changes in skin colour.
“The best way to prevent colds and flu is to teach your child to wash their hands correctly and often, not to cough or sneeze into their hands and to avoid contact with sick people,” says Dr Vermeulen. Keeping tables, counter tops, door handles and bathrooms clean with anti-bacterial disinfectant will also help. Doctors recommend the annual flu vaccine for children older than six months.