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DES MOINES — Public health officials say the first two deaths of the 2019-2020 flu season in Iowa were likely linked to underlying conditions.

Two women, one between the ages of 61-80 and the other older than 80, were the first Iowans to die during this year’s flu season. Activity in Iowa is still local, which means it has not advanced to a broad outbreak yet. That is an increase compared to the previous week.

Both flu and the common cold increase as people spend more time indoors and the weather turns colder, but there are key differences. While a cold can make people miserable with a stuffy nose and the need to grab tissues every couple minutes, it’s not usually dangerous. Flu can be. But it can be difficult to tell the difference early on.

The IDPH said one of the big signs is how fast a person gets sick. Cold symptoms come on gradually, while the flu hits very suddenly. The flu usually brings a fever and chills as well, while colds most often do not.

The flu is a respiratory illness. “Stomach flu,” which can include upset stomach and vomiting, is a different virus.

A trip to the doctor is often part of the flu, and should be automatic if the person affected by the flu is a young child or older than age 65, is pregnant, or has pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

While antiviral drugs can help shorten the illness and prevent some complications, it’s better not to get sick in the first place. That means a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control said flu vaccines can reduce the risk of getting sick by 40-60 percent. Even in years when the vaccine is a poor match for the virus that’s circulating, it can still help.

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