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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 1, 2014

Flu, cold, pertussis – how to tell

By CINDY LITCHFIELD, Community Health R.N. | Nov 07, 2013

Sneezing, coughing, sore throat, stuffy nose – if you are experiencing these symptoms, there’s no question you feel miserable.  But how do you know if you are suffering from the common cold, influenza, or perhaps pertussis (whooping cough)?
“Colds are usually milder than the flu, and pertussis can have a distinctive cough,” said Cindy Litchfield, RN, Henry County Community Health.
Influenza, or the flu, is usually characterized by a high fever (102-104), typically lasting three to four days. Chills, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and exhaustion are very common with stuffy noses, sneezing, and a sore throat.  A non-productive cough is typical and is usually moderate in severity and will last three to seven days.  A person is infectious one day before symptoms and three to seven days after symptoms end.
Common cold sufferers rarely have a fever, chills or headache.  Muscle aches and fatigue are mild.  Extreme exhaustion is rare.  A stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and sore throat are common. A cold sufferer usually has a hacking cough, often productive which usually responds to cough medications. The cough is mild to moderate, lasting three to seven days.  The infectious period is variable, typically four to seven days after symptom onset.
Pertussis, however, has a very distinctive cough. The cough is variable in severity. Coughing fits and nighttime coughing are common. This cough generally does not respond to cough medications. Infants with pertussis appear quite ill and may come to the medical provider with a cough or difficulty breathing. 
A “whooping” noise may or may not occur during coughing. The cough is persistent, almost always greater than one week, usually two to six weeks, and sometimes 10 plus weeks.
Fever, chills, headache or muscle aches are rare with pertussis. Fatigue and weakness is mild with the person appearing well between coughing attacks.
A stuffy or runny nose and sneezing are common early in the disease Pertussis is infectious from before the cough starts to 21 days after cough starts or until the end of five days of an appropriate anti-pertussis antibiotic.
As always, if there are any questions or concerns, please call your medical provider.

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