Your cold and flu questions answered
Medical science is so advanced; why can’t scientists cure the common cold?
According to Professor Ron Eccles, director of Cardiff University’s Common Cold Centre, there may never be a cure. Although this may sound incredible, there are so many different viruses for scientists to create a vaccine to cover them all. Even if they did, as soon as it became widely-used, viruses would begin to develop resistance.
When am I most contagious?
When you’re showing the early symptoms of a cold – that tickly feeling in your throat, sneezing and a runny nose. “This is when the virus is replicating in the cells lining your nose, so it can be coughed or sneezed out in droplets of mucus,” explains Professor Eccles. Contrary to popular belief, colds are actually quite tricky to catch, though. You need to be in prolonged close contact with someone or pass on germs via your hands.
Will antibiotics help?
Many of use think antibiotics can cure anything, however they do not treat colds. In fact, taking them unnecessarily can help bacteria build up a resistance and reduce the chances of them being effective for you in the future when you really do need them. “Your best bet for knocking a cold on the head is rest, plenty of fluid and over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol,” says GP Dr Hilary Jones.
Have I got flu?
Colds and flu both make you feel lousy, and both are caused by viruses, however this is where the similarities end. Most colds have cleared up within a week or less, whereas flu can last up to two weeks. Colds develop over the course of a few days, flu comes on within a matter of hours, usually with a high fever, muscle aches and pains, and exhaustion. “Typical” cold symptoms such as a runny nose and sore throat are also uncommon when you have the flu.
Am I right to feed a cold, starve a fever?
“This well-known saying has probably been misinterpreted,” says Professor Eccles. “I believe it should be ‘stave’, as in prevent, a fever. Many people crave comfort food when they have a cold — and a good diet, and rest, are really important for maintaining our general health.”
When should I go to the doctor?
Don’t be in a rush to expose yourself to even more germs from others in the GP waiting room. “If someone comes to see me with a sniffle, there’s nothing I can do,” says Dr Hilary. “But if you’re feeling wheezy or breathless, or haven’t been able to shake off a cold for a couple of weeks, it’s worth getting checked out by your GP, to rule out something more serious such as pneumonia.”
benenden health members can call the 24/7 GP advice line on 0800 414 8247